Mountains of the Moon: A Re-inscription of the Colonial Master Narrative

Mountains of the Moon: A Re-inscription of the Colonial Master Narrative

Length: 1583 words (4.5 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
Mountains of the Moon: A Re-inscription of the Colonial Master Narrative
 

 If Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke were alive in 1989 to see the release of Bob Rafelson’s Mountains of the Moon, what would their response to the film be?  Would they agree with the way Rafelson’s film depicts their remarkable journey into Africa to find the source of the Nile River?  Would they agree with the way the film dramatizes their relationship with each other?  The answers to these questions would help a great deal in determining whether Rafelson’s film about Burton and Speke’s expedition was accurate, or whether his film was an attempt to sensationalize their story to increase its reception.  Unfortunately, Burton and Speke are not around to answer these questions, which makes an analysis of these issues difficult.  Therefore, rather than analyzing this film from a historical perspective, this critique is concerned with what story Rafelson’s film tells.  How does Rafelson’s movie shape audience’s opinions about Burton and Speke as characters?  Does his story, through visual rhetoric, retell or reinterpret Burton and Speke’s story?  What role does Africa play in Rafelson’s film?  The answers to these questions should help determine whether Rafelson’s film is a re-inscription of the colonial master narrative, or whether it is a post-colonial critique of European colonization.

  Mountains of the Moon sets out to recreate the adventures of Richard Burton (Patrick Bergin) and John Hanning Speke (Iain Glen).  The plot of the film focuses on Burton and Speke’s relationship, and their journey to discover the source of the Nile River.  One interesting characteristic that separates Rafelson’s Mountains of the Moon from previous attempts to describe Burton and Speke’s expedition is that Rafelson’s film introduces a human element into Burton and Speke’s relationship; an element that remains the focal point throughout the entire movie (Campbell, www.theparamount.org). As a result, Rafelson shifts the focus of the movie away from the business aspect of the story, and compels audiences to focus more on the friendship that develops between Burton and Speke.  Sidney Pollack’s Out of Africa shifts in the same way.  In Pollack’s 1985 film, audiences find themselves more concerned with the film’s love story, than with the Baroness’s coffee plantation in Africa.  This shift occurs not by accident, but rather as a deliberate attempt by Pollack to tell a particular story.  Therefore, Rafelson’s film deliberately shifts to allow him to tell his story: a story about “Two strangers made friends by a savage land.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Mountains of the Moon: A Re-inscription of the Colonial Master Narrative." 123HelpMe.com. 18 Nov 2019
    <https://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=22770>.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder Essay

- There are people existing among us with a special trait or characteristic that makes them stand out above the masses. They are “heroes” in a sense, who perform great acts of sacrifice and promote hope when it seems that the last drop of faith has evaporated from one’s soul. These individuals remind us of saints who walked before us, healing and caring for the sick and destitute when no other man dared. Author, Tracy Kidder (2004), brings to the forefront the noble deeds of a modern day saint, Paul Farmer, through his writing in Mountains Beyond Mountains....   [tags: Mountains Beyond Mountains Essays]

Research Papers
2613 words (7.5 pages)

The Woman On The Moon Essay examples

- The Woman On The Moon As I look up in the night sky, It fills me with curiosity. Every night I wonder, About this mysterious world. What is she doing up there. Why is she left all alone. Is it a punishment or a blessing. The woman sits alone just beyond the light of the moon. She is there all alone. Far away from friends and family. Far away from war and strife. The rocket ships can 't reach her. She sits quietly on the dark side of the moon. She is the moon 's miracle. A child who once disappeared from earth....   [tags: Earth, Moon, Sun, Ecliptic]

Research Papers
711 words (2 pages)

Degradation of Appalachian Mountains Essay examples

- The 205-thousand-square-mile Appalachian Mountain range, which spans from Eastern Canada to northern Alabama, boasts North America’s oldest mountains (formed approximately 400 million years ago), the highest peak of the eastern United States (Mount Mitchell), industrial production opportunities and leisurely recreation. The range includes the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky mountains (NCSU, n.d.). A range of recreational activities such as fishing in freshwater streams, camping, biking the Blue Ridge Parkway, skiing and hiking are available in the region....   [tags: clean air act, mountains, mining industry]

Research Papers
1825 words (5.2 pages)

Essay on Astronomy: There is Water on the Moon

- The field I am writing about is astronomy. Scientist has recently revealed secrets about the moon that had gone unanswered for billions of years. NASA sent the LUNAR CRATER observation and sensing satellite otherwise known as LCROSS to the moon on October 9th, 2009. LCROSS uncovered water in the Cabeus cater near the moons south pole. The moon has many secrets and LCROSS will aid NASA in uncovering, discovering, and decoding theses secrets. Data from other LCROSS instruments are being analyzed for additional information about the materials at the impact sight....   [tags: Astronomy, moon, ]

Free Essays
415 words (1.2 pages)

The Shadow Of The Moon Essay examples

- In the Shadow of the Moon is a film about the most beautiful and incredible adventure in human history. It narrates the story of 12 fortunate American men who were able to walk upon the moon surface. They were the first human beings to stand on another world. The film reveals the astronauts experiences and memories for stepping on the moon. They share their stories, feelings, toughs and joy for stepping on the moon and travel through space. The film also portrays the beautiful scenes of the earth and the moon taken from space....   [tags: Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong, Moon, Apollo program]

Research Papers
924 words (2.6 pages)

Narrative Essays: Hobbit Journal

- Day 2 The Hobbit starts off in a hobbit hole, one inside The Hill. Inside the hole lives Bilbo Baggins, whose story is told in third person omniscient. But as I was saying, Bilbo comes from a line of Bagginses who are respected and are expected to do anything out of the normal, for that they were respected. Then one day Gandalf, the wizard, comes to talk to him about an adventure. Bilbo resists because he is used to this lifestyle but Gandalf thinks otherwise. He leaves a symbol on the door which brings thirteenth dwarves and himself to the hole....   [tags: adventure, dwarves, mountains]

Research Papers
2570 words (7.3 pages)

Essay on Personal Narrative- Mountain Hike

- Personal Narrative- Mountain Hike In hiking, as in life, there are choices between success and pain, pride and safety; this is the story of one such choice. Last summer I participated in the Rayado program at Philmont Scout Ranch. The eighth day of the trek was my crew’s greatest challenge: Super Black Death, a hike of seven peaks in one day. By 4 PM we had conquered most of the peaks. As we were climbing what we thought was our sixth peak, Big Red, a storm struck. It was a cold driving rain that froze us as we struggled up the mountain....   [tags: Personal Narrative]

Research Papers
503 words (1.4 pages)

Essay about The Importance of Landscape in A Tale of the Ragged Mountains

- The Importance of Landscape in A Tale of the Ragged Mountains In his article, Philippon begins by discussing the importance that the landscape plays in "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains." First, he quotes William Carlos Williams as saying that Poe was "intimately shaped by his locality and time," although he tends to focus on the "soul" of his surroundings, rather than the physical aspects. Philippon then goes on to say that he believes that Poe does, in fact, use the physical landscape in this particular story in order to highlight the differences between the make-believe environment of the Indian landscape of the story and that of the Ragged Mountains....   [tags: A Tale of the Ragged Mountains]

Research Papers
696 words (2 pages)

Me and the Moon Essay

- Me and the Moon Music has always been a crucial part of the way society views the world. Some songs have hidden messages that can change’s one’s life and opinions. Today many songs become popular without having meaning. Something Corporate is a fairly new band, which sings, “Konstanine”, “You’re gone”, “Only Ashes”, and “Me and the Moon”. Being a new band in the music scene, they have caught many listeners attention through their lyrics. One of their more interesting songs is, “Me and the moon”....   [tags: Something Corporate Me and the Moon Essays]

Free Essays
937 words (2.7 pages)

Moon Landing Essay

- “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was July 20 1969, the day that reshaped our nation and gave us unparalleled dreams for the future. The impact of the day goes far beyond our pride and nationalism; that day would change space exploration and technology forever. Just like a shooting star, that day would give us a glimpse of hope. A chance to see an event so breathtaking and defying, it would be man’s greatest accomplishment in the 20th century. As millions of people watched from their TV sets, a rush of euphoria came over the nation as Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the surface of the moon....   [tags: Space Program Moon Space Race]

Research Papers
1247 words (3.6 pages)

Related Searches

  Two friends made enemies by the civilized world” (Quote extracted off of the cover of the film case).  So what does Rafelson’s story tell us about Burton and Speak, and their relationship?

Clearly, Rafelson wanted to make Burton the hero of his film.  He shoots Patrick Bergin’s character in such a way as to convince audiences that Sir Richard Burton was equally concerned about ethnography, as he was about discovering the source of the Nile River.  For example, one scene in the film shows Bergin admiring one of the native tribe’s send-off ceremonies.  The camera, utilizing an establishing shot (a shot used to show the spatial relations among important figures, objects, and setting), shows how intrigued Burton was with the ceremony.  In contrast to Burton, Speke is pinned as the typical British colonizer.  Rafelson’s Speke comes across as a power-driven explorer, only concerned with discovering the source of the Nile.   The ceremony scene described above personifies this interpretation.

Speke, in an effort to continue the expedition, snaps at Burton in the ceremony scene, and ridicules him for admiring the tribe’s rituals.  Speke’s failure to appreciate the value of that particular ceremony is a perfect example of what W. E. F. Ward claims was a common problem in Britain in the 19th century.  Ward, in his essay “The Colonial Phase in British West Africa,” states, “The British people’s ignorance of Africa was and is profound, and even governments have not always been well-informed” (Ward, 405).  I believe Rafelson wanted to give the typical colonizer a voice in this film.  For this reason, Speke’s character represents an example of Britain’s ignorance about Africa, and how that ignorance was directly related to the country’s colonial agenda.  In the end, Rafelson’s story persuades audiences to sympathize with Burton’s character, and to be skeptical of Speke’s.  Clearly, Rafelson sought to dramatize Burton and Speke’s relationship to persuade audiences into siding with Burton.  Therefore, does Rafelson’s film retell or reinterpret Burton and Speke’s story?

Rafelson’s film is a reinterpretation of the Burton and Speke’s story.  The best example of this point comes near the end of the film.  In the hunting scene, Rafelson, with camera angles and point-of-view shots, suggests that Speke shot himself on purpose; a view radically different from history’s account of the incident.  Near the conclusion of the film, the Royal Geographical Society scheduled a debate in order to resolve the dispute between Burton and Speke over whose account of the Nile River was truly accurate.  Building up to the debate, Rafelson suggests, once again through camera angles and close-up shots, that Speke not only has doubts about his conclusions, but that he also felt horrible for selling Burton short of the credit he rightfully deserved earlier on in the film.  Therefore, when Speke “accidentally” kills himself, I am not convinced that that is what really happened.  Instead, I believe that Speke purposely killed himself for fear that Burton might ruin him in the debate.  This argument is problematic, however, because Rafelson never has Speke’s character come out and say that this is how he feels.  As a result, audiences must interpret the films visual rhetoric (“cues”) for themselves, and “make meaning” out of those cues.  In this way, Rafelson’s film, to borrow from David Bordwell, illustrates the philosophy that “meanings are not found but made” (Bordwell, 3).  I will now turn to an examination of whether Rafelson’s film is a re-inscription of the colonial master narrative, or whether it is a post-colonial critique of European colonization.  However, in order to make this investigation more fruitful, I will first investigate what role Africa plays in Rafelson’s film.

Some critics have argued that one of the downfalls of Mountains of the Moon is that Rafelson’s story never makes the African “environment a central character” in the film, thus taking away from the story as a whole (Hartl, www.film.com).  I would agree that the environment plays a subservient role to the human element in this film.  However, there are a few examples in the film where the environment helps us understand the expedition better.  One example that supports this idea is the scene in which Burton forces himself to cut his own legs to relive the pressure from the blood that had built up inside of them from trekking across Africa.  This scene, through its employment of Michael Small’s music and Rafelson’s camera angles, clearly illustrates how taxing this expedition was on the bodies of both explorers.  After the scene concludes, audiences become more aware of the physical and mental pain that Burton and Speke experienced on their journey.  Nevertheless, these small instances are rare.  As result, one can conclude that Africa is a backdrop to the Rafelson’s story, not the focal point.  This is just one reason why Rafelson’s Mountains of the Moon is a re-inscription of the colonial master narrative.

Rafelson’s film is a re-inscription of the colonial master narrative because the primary focus of the movie is to illustrate the relationship between Burton and Speke, not to offer a post-colonial critique of European colonization.  As stated earlier in this essay, Rafelson wanted to add a human element to Burton and Speke’s relationship.  However, in doing so, he compels audiences to concern themselves with the development of Burton and Speke’s friendship, and the betrayal of that friendship, leaving issues of European colonialism behind.  I admit that there are a number of scenes in Rafelson’s film that might be offering a critique on colonialism.  However, those scenes cannot overpower the human elements of this film.  If Rafelson wanted to offer a post-colonial critique of European colonization, I believe he would have placed less emphasis on the human element in this film, and concentrated more on the “business” aspect of the expedition.  In addition, if Rafelson wanted to comment on colonialism in general, I believe that he would have placed more emphasis on the environment, and not just used Africa as a backdrop for his story.

 Rafelson’s Mountains of the Moon provides an excellent synopsis of the events that transpired over the course of Richard Burton and Lt. John Speke’s four-year voyage.  Rafelson crams over a decade of history into a two-and-a-half hour film in an unprecedented way.  Unfortunately, Mountains of the Moon did not receive the box office success Rafelson had anticipated.  Many film critics have cited the length of the movie, and its mediocre cast as explanations for it failure in theaters (Campbell).  Despite whatever reasons for its failure, Rafelson’s story remains one of the best accounts of Burton and Speke’s journey into Central Africa.  Furthermore, his movie, with its human touch, reveals the humanity in Burton and Speke in a way no history book could.
 
Sources Cited

1.  Bordwell, David.  Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation
      of Film.  Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989.
2.  Campbell, Frank.  (http://www.theparamount.org/html/movies/Mount.html)
3.  Hartl, John.  (http://www.film.com/film-review/1990/9120/109/default-review.html)
4.  Pollack, Sydney.  Out of Africa.  Universal Studios. 1985.
5.  Rafelson, Bob.  Mountains of the Moon.  Carolco Pictures.  1989.
6.  Ward, W. E. F.  “The Colonial Phase in British West Africa.”  Handout.
Return to 123HelpMe.com