3 Stars – Thought Provoking
The best fiction is inspired by actual events. Thus when Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick in 1851, his imagination was captured by the actual destruction of the whaling vessel Essex thirty years earlier by an albino sperm whale. Taking the first person account of Thomas Nickerson (Tom Holland as a teen and Brendan Gleeson as an old man) who was a teenage cabin boy and Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) the first mate, Nathaniel Philbrick wrote the award winning account in 2000 titled: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. Director Ron Howard adapts this tale for film using his own creativity to produce an engaging, tense and thoughtful tale.
What makes this a thoughtful story is that the albino whale may have been the instrument of destruction but it was the battle between the privileged but novice captain and his poor but experienced first mate that caused them to take the Essex far out to sea and to place themselves and their crew in mortal danger. The captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), was the son of the family that started the whale blubber trade that produced the oil to light the cities. In contrast, First Mate Chase was the poor orphaned son of a man sent to prison. As Pollard later explained, he was born into the trade but Chase was born to live it.
The jealousy and injustice of the situation is indicative of the class conflict seen throughout the world. Those of means are often arrogant in their superiority while the poor are equally capable but not given the respect or the opportunity. Thus the tale is a living analogy. The true worth of each man is made apparent when they face the same beast of nature that is able to destroy them both. This nemesis comes in many forms throughout history but for whalers it is the great monster that lives in the deepest waters.
The struggle to survive as nature’s monster and life’s circumstances pursue them is the ongoing refinement of these men and their crew. The choices they must make, the apparent solutions that prove unworkable, and the desire of the institutions to deny the truth are all powerfully displayed.
There are few experiences that test a person’s character like the facing of forces larger than ourselves. In this tale it is seen both in an albino whale and a greedy ship owners group. It will come in some unique form in each of our lives, but stories like this help us recognize and prepare for the moment in which they come.
Discussion for those who have seen the film:
- The heartfelt sorrow of First Mate Chase when he killed a whale gives insight into his soul. Have you taken the life of an animal for profit? If so how do you respect the life of the animal?
- The discussion between the captain and first mate over their God-given dominion over the animals reveals the two most common attitudes, ie., we can do as we want since we are superior or we are to care for them since we are responsible to their creator. Which of these attitudes most nearly reflects your own?
- The decision of Captain Pollard to speak the truth made it possible for safer ships and sailors. Have you ever been encouraged to lie to protect profit? If so what did you do?