Sunday, March 13, 2016

In the Heart of the Sea

Director Ron Howard's epic based on a true story, In the Heart of the Sea, is an excellent film. However, it was a big disappointment at the box office. It was anticipated to be a $100,000,000. opening, but made about a quarter of that figure.

I had planned to see it in the theater, but by the time I was ready to go back to movies it was gone.  It has already reached pay-per-view, so lucky us.

It is based on the true story of the whaling ship Essex, which inspired Herman Melville to write his masterpiece Moby Dick.

The film has a wonderful cast with Chris Hemsworth as Owen Chase, First Officer of the doomed ship, Benjamin Walker as the arrogant neophyte Captain (son of the ship's owner) who makes really poor decisions, Tom Holland, as the youngest crew member who survives the ordeal, Brendan Gleeson as the same survivor thirty years later, and Ben Whishaw as Herman Melville.

Melville comes to see the elder Thomas Nickerson in 1850, thirty years after the sinking of the Essex, with the idea of writing a novel based on the incident. Nickerson at first refuses, but his wife, played by Michelle Fairley (The late lamented Stark family matriarch in Game of Thrones) convinces her husband to see the man and tell his story.

An authentic tale of life in 1820 ensues. Set partly in Nantucket and the Essex on the open sea, the film presents each locale in historical accuracy. Director Howard is known for his attention to detail in recreating different places and times.

Frankly, I am glad I didn't see this one in the theater.  Parts of it were hard enough to take watching on my flatscreen.  No detail of the cruel art of whaling is dismissed.  The whales suffer mightily when harpooned multiple times.

The white whale, yep he's mostly white, though a bit mottled, really is out for revenge against the Essex.  You see the crew happens upon spawning grounds with many whales of all ages and sizes grouped together.  The crewmen embark on an orgy of killing, indiscriminately taking whatever whales they can reach, some females with nursing calves, some huge males, and everyone in between.

Woe to the crew, the white whale, with whom they've already tussled, is there.  He escaped them, although wounded, once before. To say he gets angry is putting it mildly. While some of the crew are in the small whaling boats, he destroys their ship.  They are left on the open ocean without instruments and only hardtack for food in three small boats, little better than rowboats.

The white whale follows them relentlessly.  When Chase (Hemsworth) has the opportunity to throw a harpoon into the whale one last time, he sees the eye of the behemoth looking back at him, with Chase's harpoons previously thrown embedded near his eye. Chase sees the animal's intelligence and cannot do it.

The dwindling number of survivors spend ninety days on the open sea, adrift, before they make it to safety. When they are back in Nantucket, they must answer to the company for the loss of the Essex and the precious cargo of whale oil.

According to the story, Chase goes on to become a captain of a merchant ship and sails until he retires. Never did he kill another whale.

The film is based on a book by Nathaniel Philbrick, an American author, entitled The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. It was published in 2000, I think.

In the Heart of the Sea has a great cast and director.  It is an accurate historic piece, down to the detail of the ships and the way whales were caught and used.

For most of you who don't know, I have a long-held fascination with ships.  My second and third novels in my Touch the Sky series both feature ships in the stories as the characters sail between England and the United States. The third novel takes place when steamers have been invented which makes the trip much shorter.  For my fourth novel, a romantic suspense which takes place mostly on Hawaii in 1898 when the islands were annexed by the US, also has a ship and its captain featured prominently.  I did my research and discovered in 1898 it took a steamer a mere five days of sailing from San Francisco to reach Honolulu.

Also, I am descended from Captain Kidd on my mother's side.  (Yes, that Captain Kidd.)

In other words, I know a good ship yarn when I see one. Like I wrote before, In the Heart of the Sea is historically accurate and a fascinating tale. It kept my attention, though there were times when I had to look away. It is not for the faint of heart. Remember, this is a realistic depiction of a cruel industry.

If this sounds like something you'd want to see, enjoy it.  The strong cast and great director have worked well together and produced a quality film.

Until next time...


  1. It is. I felt like I was looking at life in 1850 as well as 1820.