In the Heart of the Sea Parent Review
This new spin on Moby Dick is more in keeping with today’s environmental sensibilities, but this adventure movie may leave audiences feeling lost at sea. Violence and other story details get gruesome.
In 1851, Herman Melville published Moby Dick, a work of fiction that would eventually become a classic. The novel was said to be inspired by the author’s own experience aboard a whaling ship and the horrific circumstances surrounding the 1820 sinking of the Nantucket Essex. The 2015 movie, In the Heart of the Sea, goes at this adventure the other way around. It recounts a fictional meeting of Herman Melville (played by Ben Whishaw), an aspiring writer with a fascination for fish stories born out of his own ocean experiences, interviewing the last living survivor (Brendan Gleeson) of the Essex, hoping to reveal the real events of the ship’s fateful voyage.
If this seems a rather convoluted way to dramatize a true history, you are right. My best guess is the screenwriters chose to tie these stories together because they saw parallels between them. Yet viewers familiar with the book will undoubtedly notice a course correction between the themes presented in the 1800s and those of the new millennia.
Told through the eyes of Tom Nickerson (Tom Holland/ Brendan Gleeson), the narrative is shared in various pieces describing the journey. The first introduces Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and his first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). Chosen to helm the expedition because he comes from a well-established family that has made its fortune through whaling, Pollard brings no experience to his position. Accepting second-in-command because of financial necessity, Chase is a well-seasoned seaman even though his father was a farmer. Their clash of egos takes its toll on their shipmates. This is dramatically demonstrated when Pollard heads recklessly into a storm to prove his superiority, and runs straight into danger for the crew and vessel alike.
Next, the men encounter their first hunting opportunity. Pursuing the mammals of the deep with an unholy joy, the creatures are harpooned willy-nilly until one is speared enough times that blood spurts through his blow hole. Although the fishermen are in peril too, the real loser is the bull that is killed and butchered. This gruesome procedure is depicted in some detail, along with the decision to force Tom to crawl into the putrid carcass of the whale in order to collect as much oil as possible.
However, their prey is becoming increasingly scarce, so the Essex decides to go where few sailors have gone before. Ignoring warnings, they set out 1000 leagues along the equator in search of a breeding ground. Their excitement at finding a large school of sperm whales is dampened though when one of the hunted takes exception to their pillaging and turns and attacks them. A monster as big as the boat itself, the whale quickly splinters the ship and drowns the men’s hope of returning safely home.
All the action sequences stop now, as the script wallows in the doldrums of survival at sea, with depictions of starvation that eventually lead to cannibalism. (This is described but not explicitly shown). Other concerning content consists of frequent profanities, an on-screen shooting and portrayals of drinking.
Considering the money spent on special effects, the talented cast and the gripping source material, this film ought to be a thrill ride from beginning to end. Unfortunately, it is not. Perhaps the problem is the frequent breaks in the plotline. Or maybe it is an unexpected twist that throws off the anticipated momentum.
Even those who have never cracked the cover on Moby Dick know that it is a “Man versus Nature” story. But this modern rendition drifts far way from the old themes. Carried on the changing tides of popular opinion, Man, despite being hampered by the human foible of revenge, is no longer the protagonist facing off against the enormous forces of nature. Instead, Man is the antagonist greedily reducing nature of its bounty. (And there are some strong comparisons between the whale and petroleum industries.) While this sympathetic slant may be more in keeping with today’s environmental sensibilities, posting this message in the middle of an adventure movie may leave surprised audiences feeling a little lost at sea.Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Benjamin Walker. Running time: 121 minutes. Theatrical release December 11, 2015. Updated May 12, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in In the Heart of the Sea here.
In the Heart of the Sea Parents Guide
How does the script compare the whale and petroleum industries? What fuels man’s greed for oil? What environmental costs are ignored? How might the sympathy for whales felt by today’s world help to foster a similar feeling for other ecological causes?
Pollard preaches man’s superiority and his responsibility to conquer the world. How has that sentiment changed in the last 200 years? What is the modern view of man’s responsibility? Do you think these attitudes might change over time as well? Do you ever wonder if we are just shifting one problem for the next, the way energy needs were shifted from hunting whales to drilling for oil?
From the Studio: In the winter of 1820, the New England whaling ship Essex was assaulted by something no one could believe: a whale of mammoth size and will, and an almost human sense of vengeance. The real-life maritime disaster would inspire Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. But that told only half the story. “In the Heart of the Sea” reveals the encounter’s harrowing aftermath, as the ship’s surviving crew is pushed to their limits and forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive. Braving storms, starvation, panic and despair, the men will call into question their deepest beliefs, from the value of their lives to the morality of their trade, as their captain searches for direction on the open sea and his first mate still seeks to bring the great whale down. © Warner Bros