Gorillas in the Mist

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Gorillas in the Mist Movie Poster Image
Gripping biopic has violence, animals in peril.
  • PG-13
  • 1988
  • 129 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

One person can make a big difference, sometimes even as much as saving a species from extinction. But you've got to be fearless, and sometimes even ruthless, in pursuit of your goal. You also have to make many sacrifices, and the cost to yourself and your loved ones can be incredibly high. Asks what's more important, the people who sell animals for necessities or the animals? Dian wants government officials to find a better way to provide for their people.

Positive role models & representations

Dian Fossey is a strong role model for women in the sciences. Almost by sheer force of will she saved a species of mountain gorilla from certain extinction, although at great cost to herself. She fearlessly confronted and even fought back against poachers and others who used violence and intimidation to try and stop her. She sometimes took things too far, but her refusal to let anything stand in her way led to ultimate success.

Violence

A bloody gorilla's body with its head and hands cut off. A gorilla shot and stabbed with spears throws a man. Machetes rise and fall as they hack at an off-camera gorilla. A gorilla's hands being cut off with brief glimpses of blood and bloody clothing. Lifeless gorilla bodies strewn across a field. A baby deer in a trap in distress is shot twice with a handgun to put it out of its misery. A child is tied up and frightened and intimidated into giving information. A man is intimidated by being almost hung. Mention of a civil war and upheaval, guns seen and heard off screen in a burning village. A man is hit with a rifle butt. A machete rising in silhouette then cuts to a bloody hand with blood pooled underneath. Lots of scariness from people and animals in peril and animals in distress, including a baby gorilla taken from its mother. A severed gorilla's hand briefly glimpsed wrapped in a bloodstained cloth. Important people and animals die.

Sex

Several kisses and some caressing, once in a bathtub with body parts covered in bubbles, the rest with clothes or pajamas on. A woman walks in on two people in bed, seemingly nude under the covers but no body parts shown. A couple talk about whether it matters that he's married to someone else.

Language

"S--t," "goddamn," "ass," "Christ" and "Jesus Christ" as exclamations, "bastard," and one "f--king."

Consumerism

A box of Marlboro cigarettes, a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red, and boxes of Cheez-Its.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Dian smokes. Later she has a persistent cough that isn't talked about or explained. Other characters or people in the background occasionally smoke. Adults occasionally drink scotch, beer, and an unidentified brown liquor.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Gorillas in the Mist is a 1988 movie based on the life and work of Dian Fossey, who saved mountain gorillas from extinction in the '70s and '80s. Sensitive animal lovers of all ages should know that there's lots of scariness and tension from animals and people in peril: a baby gorilla separated from its mother; the body of a gorilla with its head and hands cut off; a baby deer in pain and distress after falling in a pit trap; a brief glimpse of a severed gorilla hand; and poachers hunting, spearing, and hacking at gorillas. Blood and bloodstained clothes are shown briefly, including a large pool under a bloody hand, but no other gore. Strong language includes "s--t," "goddamn," "ass," and one "f--king." Sexual content includes several kisses, a couple nude under bubbles in a tub, and a couple in bed apparently naked, but no sensitive parts are shown. Fossey smokes and years later has a persistent cough. Adults drink scotch and beer a few times. Fossey's a good role model for women in science, but some of her tactics are controversial, and her life was pretty tragic. It's a good chance to talk about whether the sacrifices she made were worth it, the value of preserving habitat and species like mountain gorillas, and lots more. Teens can be encouraged to find out about the mountain gorilla population, and the part of Africa where they live today.

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What's the story?

In the late 1960s, Dian Fossey (Sigourney Weaver) convinced the famous anthropologist Louis Leakey to let her count the population of GORILLAS IN THE MIST, in the mountains of eastern-central Africa. Helped by Sembagare, a local tracker she hired and who remained with her until the end, Fossey eventually found several groups to study. Able to get closer to the gorillas than anyone ever had, Fossey documented many previously unknown behaviors. Fossey soon became alarmed when her studies showed a rapid decline in the gorilla population, and dedicated the rest of her life to fighting against poaching, capturing for zoos, and loss of habitat due to tourism. When photographer Bob Campbell (Bryan Brown) arrived at her camp, the two fell in love, but either staying together or breaking up would require tremendous sacrifice for both of them. Will history say the sacrifices were worthwhile?

Is it any good?

Gripping, haunting, tragic, but ending on a hopeful note, this movie based on Dian Fossey's life and work will put sensitive animal lovers through an emotional wringer. Gorillas in the Mist boasts wonderful performances, beautiful photography, and a compelling drama that keeps the viewer riveted. The violence, animals in peril, and tragic deaths of important people and beloved animals make it best for mature teens and up.

As Fossey's obsession with the gorillas deepens to near madness, the movie loses some momentum and some of the realism. But it's an incredibly compelling story, and a worthwhile way to start important conversations about continuing conservation efforts.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Gorillas in the Mist. Is there a good reason for it? Is it too much? Why?

  • Why should we care whether mountain gorillas become extinct or not? How many mountain gorillas are there in the world today? How can you find out more about their numbers and their habitat?

  • What traits does Dian Fossey have that you admire? Do you agree with her tactics, or did she go too far? Why?

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