The Gods Must Be Crazy  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Gods Must Be Crazy is a 1980 film, written and directed by Jamie Uys. The film is the first in The Gods Must Be Crazy series of films. Set in Botswana and South Africa, it tells the story of Xi, a Sho of the Kalahari Desert (played by Namibian San farmer Nǃxau) whose band has no knowledge of the world beyond. The film is followed by four sequels, the final three of which were made in Hong Kong.



The film is a collision of three separate stories—the journey of a Ju/'hoansi bushman to the end of the earth to get rid of a Coca-Cola bottle, the romance between a bumbling scientist and a schoolteacher, and a band of guerrillas on the run.

Xi and his band of San/Bushmen relatives are living well off the land in the Kalahari Desert. They are happy because the gods have provided plenty of everything, and no one in the tribe has unfulfilled wants. One day, a glass Coke bottle is thrown out of an aeroplane and falls to earth unbroken. Initially, this strange artifact seems to be another boon from the gods—-Xi's people find many uses for it. But unlike anything that they have had before, there is only one bottle to go around. This exposes the tribe to a hitherto unknown phenomenon, property, and they soon find themselves experiencing things they never had before: jealousy, envy, anger, hatred, even violence.

Since it has caused the band unhappiness on two occasions, Xi decides that the bottle is an evil thing and must be thrown off of the edge of the world. He sets out alone on his quest and encounters Western civilization for the first time. The film presents an interesting interpretation of civilization as viewed through Xi's perceptions.

There are also plot lines about shy biologist Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers) who is studying the local animals (which, because of his nervousness around women, he once described as "manure-collecting"); the newly hired village school teacher, a former newspaper reporter named Kate Thompson (Sandra Prinsloo); and some guerrillas led by Sam Boga (Louw Verwey), who are being pursued by government troops after an unsuccessful attempt to massacre the Cabinet of the fictional African country of Burani. Also taking a share of the limelight is Steyn's Land Rover, dubbed the Antichrist (also "son of a mlakka") by his assistant and mechanic, M'pudi (Michael Thys), for its unreliability and constant need of repair. Also part of the chaos is a fresh safari tour guide named Jack Hind (Nic de Jager), who has designs on Thompson and would often steal Steyn's thunder.

Xi happens upon a farm and, being hungry as well as oblivious to the concept of ownership, shoots a goat with a tranquilizer arrow. For this he is arrested and jailed for stealing livestock. M'pudi, who lived with the bushmen for a long time, realizes that Xi will die in the alien environment of a prison cell. He and Steyn manage to hire Xi as a tracker for the 11 weeks of his prison sentence, with the help of M'pudi, who speaks Xi's language. Meanwhile, the guerrillas invade the school where Kate teaches and use her and her pupils as human shields for their escape by foot to the neighboring country. Steyn and Xi manage to immobilize the guerrillas as they are passing by and save Kate and the children. Steyn allows Xi to leave to continue his quest to the edge of the world.

Xi eventually finds himself at the top of a cliff with a solid layer of low-lying clouds obscuring the landscape below. This convinces Xi that he has reached the edge of the world, and he throws the bottle off the cliff. This scene was filmed at a place called God's Window in the then Eastern Transvaal, South Africa (now Mpumalanga). This is at the edge of the escarpment between the Highveld and Lowveld of South Africa. Xi then returns to his band and receives a warm welcome.


The first two films present the Ju/ʼhoansi as noble savages leading a simple, fairly utopian life in contrast with Western culture. Initially, the arrival of a Coca-Cola bottle, thrown from a passing light aircraft, represents the only exposure that the Ju/ʼhoansi have with Western culture. Richard Lee, an anthropologist who studied the Ju/ʼhoansi, argues that the film's representation of the group was a "cruel caricature of reality" given the decades of highly problematic social changes forced upon them by encroaching Westerners. In Namibia, the Ju/ʼhoansi were relocated and forced to abandon their foraging lifestyle in favor of government food handouts so that, by the time of filming, the Bushmen actors had long ceased to be hunter-gatherers and were even confused by the instructions given to them by the directors, as briefly demonstrated in the film N!ai, the Story of a !Kung Woman, the filming of which overlapped in part with the filming of The Gods Must Be Crazy. Even before this rapid change, the Ju/ʼhoansi had not been completely untouched by surrounding cultures and a single foreign artifact would not have upset the society's equilibrium.

While Western audiences found the films funny, there was considerable debate about its racial politics.Template:Citation needed The portrayal of Xi (particularly in the first film) as incapable of understanding the gods was viewed as insulting by some, including the government of Trinidad and Tobago, which consequently banned the film. However, its many fans believe that it is exactly the opposite, a send-up of so-called civilization and a condemnation of racism with Xi as the hero. Xi's life is portrayed as the norm, while the Westerners are portrayed as strange. The film's progression from documentary style to comedy to the fantastical ending reveals its allegorical point.

Some of the debate centered on Xi's reaction to the first white people he met— he assumed they were gods since they looked and acted so strange (he had only known other Sho before), had road vehicles (which he also had never seen before), and were comparatively huge. However, within minutes he began doubting they were gods. The second film clearly shows Xi's greater understanding as he tells the children about the people he had met: "Heavy people... who seem to know some magic that can make things move," but are "not very bright, because they can't survive without their magic contrivances".

The films' depictions of the Bushmen, even if they were superficially accurate in the decades before the rapid social changes of the 1970s and 1980s, are clearly no longer accurate. The DVD's special feature "Journey to Nyae Nyae" (N!xau's homeland in northeastern Namibia), filmed in 2003, demonstrates this.


For the film's overseas release, the original Afrikaans dialogue was dubbed into English, and voiceover work was provided for !Kung and Tswana lines.


Based on nineteen reviews, The Gods Must Be Crazy has carried a 95% "Fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes.


Despite the film having grossed over $100 million worldwide, Nǃxau reportedly earned less than $2,000 for his starring role. Before his death, Uys supplemented this with an additional $20,000 as well as a monthly stipend.

See also

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