Movie Review: The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)

Title: The Gods Must Be Crazy
Release Date:  10 September 1980
Director: Jamie Uys
Production Company: C.A.T. Films

The Gods Must Be Crazy was one of my favorite movies when I was young, starting at the age of 10 when I first saw it on the big screen. There was a notorious XXX theater in the downtown of my hometown, but I guess gentrification arrived in 1984 and it reopened as an art house cinema.  The first time I entered that theater was to see The Gods Must Be Crazy and it felt very cosmopolitan to watch a movie made in Africa at an art house cinema.  I then watched it many, many more times on tv and video.

Before I start the review, I should note that there are some problematic elements of The Gods Must Be Crazy. First, it was partially filmed and funded in South Africa without ever mentioning apartheid or any indication of racial inequality (I noticed on this watch that they mention “Botswana” multiple times, but never say “South Africa”). Second, it deals with the San people (or the “Bushmen” as they’re called in the movie) in a condescending manner, depicting them as an isolated tribe of hunter-gatherers which wasn’t at all true to life at the time the film was made.  With that said, this is one of the first movies made in sub-Saharan Africa to become a worldwide hit and succeeds due to a brilliant combination of mockumentary with political satire, romantic comedy, and straight-up slapstick.

The mockumentary part deals with Xi (Nǃxau ǂToma), a member of a San tribe who finds a glass bottle that’s initially thought to be a useful thing, but as there is only one it begins to sow jealousy and division among the family.  They determine the bottle is an evil thing an Xi is tasked with carrying the bottle to “the end of the world” to return it to the gods.  The scenes with the San are narrated documentary-style with a professorial, anthropological tone by Paddy O’Byrne.

But then the same narration is used to describe scenes of “civilized” people in a big city (which I assume is Johannesburg) to hilarious effect. Which introduces the next thread of the film, Kate Thompson (Sandra Prinsloo), a woman decides to become a teacher in a rural village. She is given a lift by a biologist, Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers), who is extremely awkward around women.  Their pairing provides the romcom and a lot of the slapstick.  Finally, a revolutionary, Sam Boga (Louw Verwey), goes on the run with his soldiers through Botswana after failing to assassinate the President of a fictional neighboring nation.  All of these threads come together in a genuinely funny way.

Rating: ****