I was getting mixed reviews about this ocean adventure based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s book of the same name which was inspired by a whale of a story. On the one hand: In the Heart of the Sea was based on a true story and was directed by Ron Howard and, it also starred Chris Hemsworth, the mighty Thor of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. On the other hand: it didn’t have dinosaurs, zombies, ghosts or light sabers, which is always a big sell close to the holidays. But, what convinced me to attend the film on my birthday, was the whales. I have a special bond to these creatures, but was the film worth the visit. Grab your harpoon and follow me to Nantucket.
Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw), an American novelist is gathering information for a novel he is working on about whaling ships. Although Melville has experience as a sailor, he visits Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) an innkeeper who was on the fated whaling ship called the Essex. Thomas and his wife are in dire financial straits and Melville is willing to pay to learn the events leading to the Essex’s sinking. Did a whale cause the ship to sink? If the stories were true, then Melville had his model for Moby-Dick. But, could Nickerson’s tale about one freaking massive whale hold our attention?
The film picks up pace as Nickerson begins his tale of a veteran whaler named Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). According to historical records, Owen was only twenty-one years old when he took the job of first mate on the Essex in 1820. Although Owen was promised a ship of his own to captain, he agrees to work under Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). The ship owners would have done better to have the ship captained under Chase as we find out early in the film.
We see the events through the eyes of a young Nickerson (Tom Holland) as Melville is told about the crew, the rivalry between Chase and Pollard and the life aboard a whaling ship. By the time the Essex goes on that one way trip for whale oil, the effects of overkill is already being felt. The Atlantic waters have already been fished out. Pollard decides to head to the Pacific in hopes of filling their quota of oil.
I wonder what the seas were like before the whaling ships decimated most of these gentle giants called sperm whales. These mammals have been on this planet longer than people. Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales on the planet. They are deep divers and only rarely rest at the surface. They feed on giant squid and fish. They hunt using echolocation. The whales huge head which is up to 1/3 of its overall body length, houses the heaviest brain in the animal kingdom. Mature males average between 52 and 67 feet in length. They can live over 70 years of age.
Can a whale be smart enough to ram and sink a ship? This is exactly what Chase and Pollard swear to in the inquiry summoned by the Essex’s owners. I want to believe that whales will protect themselves when pushed to extinction by greedy people, who like Pollard, believe that the planet and the creatures who share this world with us are only here for our pleasure.
I wanted to see the film because I’m a fan of Ron Howard and because I love stories about the sea. I must have been a sea captain in a past life, or maybe even a whale. The theatre my husband and I were in wasn’t crowded. There were three couples including us and, we were all about the same age range.
Chris Hemsworth, who usually draws in the younger crowd with his Thor character, did not pull in the under 50 crowd at the theatre I was in, or from what I’ve heard with this film in general. This was an historical film and even though I found the story fascinating, I guess history is boring to the young.
It’s a shame because there were some scary scenes that were worth the price of the ticket and, even though there were no zombies, there was cannibalism. The film did drag on in certain spots, but it was only to show what life was like on the sea back in the 1820’s when there was no radar, internet or radio to call for help.
The whales are in danger and it’s because of us. We pollute the seas, we over fish the oceans, and now, we are causing climate changes that have a dire effect on all life on earth. I would still recommend the film if you’re still interested in seeing it, regardless of my review. The scenes of the sea are mesmerizing and, the whales are the stars on the show, but if we’re not careful, film may be the only way remaining for us to see a sperm whale.