‘In the Heart of the Sea’: a ‘Nantucket sleigh ride’ through survival and depravity

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/12/09/in-the-heart-of-the-sea-a-nantucket-sleigh-ride-through-survival-and-depravity/

Herman Melville’s classic “Moby-Dick” has long been considered as a tale of vengeance and a battle against the forces of nature. Like Melville’s novel, director Ron Howard’s film “In the Heart of the Sea” (rated PG-13) concludes that, when pushed to desperation, man will often reveal an inherently evil heart.

The movie, which will be released Thursday, Dec. 10, is based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction book of the same name, published in 2000. The book recounts the true story that inspired Melville. In fact, the film opens with Melville (Ben Whishaw) talking with the elderly survivor Thomas Nickerson (Brendon Gleeson). Melville tries to discover what really happened aboard the “Essex,” a Nantucket, Mass. whaling ship that sank in 1820 from an attack by an aggressive sperm whale.

Journals recorded by the few survivors of the shipwreck describe a nearly three-month journey while lost at sea. The accounts create the framework for the film and suggest that Captain George Pollard, Jr. (Benjamin Walker) and first mate Owen Chase’s (Chris Hemsworth) mutual dislike contributed to the disaster.

For New Englanders, the film is a captivating depiction of a piece of our history, the grim industry of slaughtering whales for oil. And though the special effects add a modern twist to an old epic – showing a windswept Chris Hemsworth battling a great sea monster – the film explores much deeper themes. It takes an age-old fear of the sea and turns it into a soul-searching epic with raw survival scenes reminiscent of Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.”

At one point, the wealthy Pollard is briefly cast ashore on a deserted island. He is forced to face his own mortality, with no chance to make amends at home. Little does he know that the fiercest moral dilemmas would be in the days ahead.

Speaking to Chase, Pollard mourns that the “great white whale” had destroyed everything. Chase faces him and turns the question on its head: “What about us? What about our arrogance, our greed?”

Nickerson, the film’s narrator, must come to terms with the gruesome days adrift that he had kept secret for years, doubting that anyone would believe, or look past, his wickedness. The audience is left to contemplate what else was destroyed besides the ship.

Nevertheless, the self-examining moments of the screenplay are brief. The rest of the film provides plenty of shots of a chiseled Hemsworth shouting “Thar she blows,” and animated sperm whales taking sailors on a harpoon-led “Nantucket sleigh ride.”

Perhaps for a Hollywood twist on an age-old epic, that’s all we can expect.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.