The Hollywood partnership of director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer has assembled an impressive catalogue of films including: Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code. Now they are the team behind the period piece In The Heart of the Sea, a historical adventure with a back story of mythological proportions.
When the film Jaws opened, the tag line was: “You’ll never go in the water again.” With In The Heart of the Sea, the infamous whale is a lot bigger than the great white shark was and when you see what he can do, the tag line could be: “You’ll never go into a boat in the water again!”
Most people have heard of Herman Melville’s epic novel Moby Dick (1851). It is probably a safe bet most would even recall the opening line of “Call me Ishmael.” But most people likely don’t realize that while Captain Ahab, his peg leg and his boat the Pequod are fictional, behind the tale lies the true story of the New England whaling ship The Essex, or that it was felled by a big white sperm whale in the South Pacific in 1820, during the height of the whaling industry in North America.
In The Heart of The Sea has been adapted from the maritime historical title In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, written by American Nathaniel Philbrick. The author used accounts of first mate Owen Chase and cabin boy Thomas Nickerson for his book, which won the 2000 National Book Award for Nonfiction, to tell the desperate tale of a sinking ship and the subsequent ordeal of the crew.
In the early 1800s, Nantucket, Massachusetts was home to several dozen whaling ships. Whales were hunted for their blubber, which when boiled down to oil became very valuable as a machine lubricant, to power lamps or as a fixative in perfumes to hold scent longer. We watch The Essex set sail from Nantucket in August 1819, headed for the waters off South America, which were reportedly abundant with whales.
Two days out, they run into a squall. The boat loses its topgallant sail, but the inexperienced captain chooses to sail onward instead of returning to port for repairs. Is this a harbinger of things to come? It takes five weeks for the Essex to arrive at its destination, only to find empty waters. But a whaler does not like to return home empty handed. The captain resolves to set sail for the South Pacific rather than return home defeated and there they meet their fate in the form of an underwater leviathan, with shocking proportions and sheer brute force. Clearly, man does not hold dominion over the sea.
From the outset, there is tension between the captain and first mate Owen Chase, played by the strikingly tall Australian Chris Hemsworth, on his second tour of duty with director Ron Howard (they worked on the film Rush together). Mr. Chase had been promised something by the ship owners, who have reneged on their deal and he is displeased to say the least. Further, he and his captain continue to butt heads throughout the journey, making for an interesting dynamic.
Irishman Cillian Murphy, with piercing blue eyes, plays crew member Matthew Joy. If you’re paying attention, you will catch Game of Thrones fan favorite Michelle Fairley as Mrs. Nickerson, wife to the cantankerous Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleesen), who, years later, is recounting his harrowing story to a young and impressionable Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw), who wishes to write the tale.
Essentially In The Heart Of The Sea is a tale of survival. There is the struggle between man and whale. The captain and first mate struggle to get along. As the tragedy unfolds, the men have to dig deep to find the endurance necessary to stay alive. Ultimately it is a fight between man and the sea.
The water scenes are exhilarating to watch. Make no mistake. The sea is the star. That is, until you catch sight of Moby.
In The Heart Of The Sea was filmed in the Canary Islands. The scenery is as pleasing to the eye as The Essex is statuesque, but the film also gives us a very revealing insider’s look at the barbarous whaling industry. It could very well turn your support to saving the whales if you weren’t a supporter before. ~Sharon Salsberg