Drama from 1988 here, with an adaptation of naturalist Dian Fossey’s (1932-1985) life story. Michael Apted directed and a certain Sigourney Weaver took the lead role, starting a lifelong conservation interest for the actor.
Gorillas in the Mist
Before the plot specifics begin, Diane Fossey’s eponymous book was first published in 1983. Large sections of it helped to structure the screenplay.
Fossey (Weaver) is an occupational therapist. The anthropologist Louis Leakey inspires her to change career to study primates.
She writes many letters to him asking for a job studying gorillas in Africa. Eventually she wins him over after cornering him at a lecture in 1966.
He invites her on a trip to the Congo, where they travel into the wilderness and find a group of wild gorillas. But the Congo Crisis brings this time to a sudden end.
Worse still, Congolese soldiers grow suspicious of her antics and accuse her of spying. Despite these threats she stays put and opens a new research facility.
With superhuman levels of determination, Fossey’s work impresses Leakey and also leads to international attention. So National Geographic sends over a journalist to document her efforts in 1970.
Bob Campbell (Bryan Brown) duly arrives to record her interactions with the gorillas (cue Weaver acting).
Those two hit it off as Campbell is enthralled by the total dedication to her cause – at one point he finds her pretending to be a gorilla in her primitive hut.
He’s married, though, but suggests a divorce so they can be together. She refuses to get involved due to an evident desire to commit her life to protecting primates.
After Bob clears off, Fossey’s opposition to poaching and hunting grows vehemently. She challenges the Rwandan government to end the illegal antics, but they wave her off.
Meanwhile, a group of bloody students turn up to help her along. This includes a chap called Brendan, who’s played by a young Iain Glen (yes, that one from Game of Thrones… Khaleesi!).
But she grows increasingly furious and involved with the poachers, to the extent she’s warned by her friend and animal tracker Sembagare that it’s getting dangerous for her.
Her antics are mirrored by Timothy Treadwell of Grizzly Man notoriety.
The film is about that total commitment to a cause, although in Treadwell’s case it seems a last ditch attempt to secure some sort of fame.
But the threat remains for Fossey – calm down the behaviour. Back off. Or there may be consequences.
Fossey waves the concerns off, but on December 27th, 1985, she’s murdered in her bedroom. To this day, it’s unclear who was behind the attack.
At a funeral ceremony she’s buried alongside some of the gorillas she sought to protect – pre-credits indicate her efforts helped save this species of gorilla from extinction.
And that’s the plot – adapted from the true story of Fossey’s life (her book). Sigourney Weaver plays the role with the usual commitment you expect.
She really throws herself into it and did go out into the jungle to film alongside wild apes. Ever since she’s supported conservationism – she still regularly promotes the cause to protect primates.
Interesting note on that, as after James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) with the director she championed a pacifistic outlook against guns.
But for this film, some critics suggested Gorillas in the Mist didn’t explore Fossey’s motivations. Her singular goal is to protect primates and she becomes increasingly manic about that.
No other aspects of her personality are really explored, they claim. Whether you agree or not – watch it. It’s clear what’s going on.
But this is very much Weaver’s film – the rest of the cast is rather irrelevant.
As the viewer, we’re there for two reasons – the big name actor, plus the footage of the gorillas. And the technical achievements are still very impressive.
The pacing of the film will confuse or annoy younger viewers, it very much has 1980s sensibilities. As we’re from that era, so that’s all fine with us.
Overall it’s an engaging drama with an excellent performance from Weaver, but it’s the message of the film that lasts.
As capitalism lays waste to the world around us in the name of money, can films like Gorillas in the Mist remind us being insanely rich isn’t the most important goal in the world?
53 at the time of her death, Fossey’s story highlights a total dedication to her ambitions.
She had an impressive drive and did make an incredible contribution to the survival of mountain gorillas in Rwanda.
As her work interfered with poaching and the money that brings, she was the victim of bullying from them. And this, in all likelihood, was what resulted in her death. Although nothing is confirmed.
The subsequent trial was messy and unpleasant, but there were also accusations against Fossey about kidnapping poachers and torturing them with nettle stings.
Much of this is speculation, but what we’ll acknowledge are her sterling efforts to make a big difference to those gorillas in the mist.
Everything else, the murder and governmental espionage, once again indicates humans are very much the real problem.