Fossey was one of "Leakey's Angels", at the time the world's leading researchers in the field of primates, inspired by anthropologist Louis Leakey. In the 1960s, she traveled deep into the isolated jungles of Rwanda to study endangered mountain gorillas. Fossey devoted her life to ending poaching at the cost of her relationships with the people around her. Her fight became more and more heated, to the extreme ends of confronting the Rwandan government and eventually burning down a poachers' village, which quickly put her in their crosshairs.
This work features examples of:
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Dian purchasing a monster mask to scare the poachers? She really did that.
- Badass Boast: Dian to Van Vecten: "You like this ring? You want to keep the hand this ring is on? If I see or hear or smell you anywhere near my gorillas, you'll be writing with your other hand and I'll have a new ashtray."
- Badass Bookworm: Dian Fossey.
- Bittersweet Ending: Dian is murdered by poachers, but her efforts saved the gorillas from extinction.
- Biopic: Of Fossey. While the film uses the title of her own partly autobiographical book, it is also based on other books and articles written after her death. A subplot of the film is Fossey's affair with a National Geographic photographer, which isn't mentioned in her book.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: Or in this case, apes. Dian gets her job as part of an anthropology research program focusing on apes because of their remarkable similarity to humans. She ends up viewing the gorillas as her family.
- Evil Poacher: Dian has to defend the gorillas from poachers, who come off as this due to Dian being the POV character. They kill Dian in the end.
- Going Native: After 15 years on the mountain, Dian most definitely qualifies.
- Gory Discretion Shot: When Dian is killed in her sleep with a machete, all we see is the killer in shadow and her blood splashing onto a photograph of the gorillas. Rather justified, as in real life, the blow split her face.
- Incurable Cough of Death: Subverted. If you don't know the story of how Dian Fossey died, you're liable to think her nagging cough late in the film, combined with her constant smoking earlier in the film, is foreshadowing a death by lung cancer. You would be brutally wrong.
- Killer Gorilla: Mostly averted, considering that Dian Fossey's research is exactly what debunked the myth behind this trope. The closest the movie gets to it is when Dian encounters the gorillas for the first time and the silverback charges at her.
- Mama Bear: Dian Fossey came to consider the gorillas her family and was very protective of them. Do not hurt the gorillas when she's near.
- Motherly Scientist: Dian Fossey, who considers her research subjects, the gorillas, as family.
- Precision F-Strike: After Digit's death, she refers to her team as "fucking wogs". It's a sign of her Sanity Slippage.
- Primal Chest-Pound: Dian beats her chest when she imitates the gorillas' behaviour to blend in with the group. The scene is a bit of a Fridge Logic, considering that chest-beating often means a display of dominance or a challenge to fight - probably not the best idea when you are trying to earn the trust of a 300-pound silverback.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Made just a few years after Dian Fossey's murder in December 1985.
- Scarecrow Solution: In one scene, Dian wears a monster mask to scare the superstitious native poachers. It's just as ridiculous as it sounds, but it's something she actually did in real life.