The African Queen (1951), directed by John Huston

African Queen posterI serve as a volunteer matchmaker on an international internet site, and as a volunteer I can choose which age group on which to focus. Although I try to be helpful to people of all ages, I especially like to work with the over-40 crowd. This is a challenging group since I find that the over-40 group is perceived very negatively as consisting of people who are confused, commitment-phobic, who have unrealistic expectations about a marriage partner, and who possess a streak of selfishness. While there may be a grain of truth in such a stereotype, I have found that, in most cases, these people have simply not found their destined one yet. And so I research the site and try to find a suitable match, and sometimes I happily succeed.

The idea that love begins after 40 is given cinematic reality in the classic film, The African Queen, starring a mature Humphrey Bogart, who plays Charlie Allnut, and Katherine Hepburn, who plays Rose, a Christian missionary. Charlie Allnut delivers mail and supplies to a remote African village while World War I rages in Europe.  When a contingent of German soldiers arrives at the village and sets it afire, Rose’s brother, also a missionary, becomes despondent and commits suicide. Charlie volunteers to take Rose, his surviving sister, to safety, and so begins their dangerous journey on Charlie’s boat The African Queen.

Charlie and Rose come from different worlds, but destiny has thrown them together. What begins as an adversarial relationship eventually morphs into love as they share perilous adventures together. Surviving treacherous rapids and the gunfire of German troops, they bond through shared adversity.

What emerges from their mutual trials is the revelation that Charlie and Rose share a common humanity, an innate honesty, and a positive attitude towards life. They are vastly different from their public personas. Charlie is not the proverbial drunken sailor; nor is Rose the conventional missionary.

Also noteworthy is their honest self-appraisal. Rose and Charlie have no illusions about one another. They do not long for a younger love. They live in the moment and want every minute to count. This approach to life is captured exquisitely in the final scene of the film in which Charlie asks a German ship captain to marry Rose and him when they are about to be hung for spying. The captain concludes the ceremony and declares: “By the authority vested in me by Kaiser William II, I pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution.” What happens next defies description. Suffice it to say, the loving couple lives happily ever after.

What makes for a match in Jewish tradition? The Talmud tells us that making a match is like splitting the Red Sea, a miracle of major proportions. As a matchmaker, I can never predict why two people ultimately will connect emotionally. I just make a calculated guess and leave the rest up to God. The African Queen provides several examples of Providence taking over to produce positive results. Rain comes to free a boat entangled in a swamp. Makeshift torpedoes hit a target without being launched by a human being. All demonstrate that we can only do our best; but to be successful, God has to intervene.

Finally, what underpins my volunteer work is the belief that what binds a couple together is not just physical attraction. There has to be an intellectual connection as well. Moreover, there has to be a feeling of a shared spiritual destiny. Therefore, on the client’s profile page, I pay close attention to self-descriptions more than to dimensions of height and weight. Proverbs teaches us that “beauty is vain.” It passes and then we are left with who we really are.

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One response »

  1. Rabbi,
    You look at this movie with such insight.
    Now I want to see the movie again.


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