In the Heart of the Sea: Watchable but underwhelming

A still from the movie.

A still from the movie.

The biggest lesson of all horror/monster movies came in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975). It wasn’t so much the shark, but the sight of its fin in the waters of sunny American beaches that was terrifying. The same could be said about the most of Alien (1979) where just the thought of the creature lurking somewhere inside the spaceship is bloodcurdling.

Similarly, In the Heart of the Sea , the fun is in the wait. The wait for the first time we see the great mythic whale; when we hear about it for the first time, in an Ecuadorian island from a Spanish captain who lost all his men and his ship when they faced the fury of Moby Dick. This is no ordinary whale; after all, this is an apparently true tale that inspired the great American novel.

These portions of the film are the only time we feel the sense of a myth of Biblical proportions—an early scene, of the captain’s bull-headed refusal to take an approaching storm seriously that proves to be devastating, serves as a caution for a greater disaster.

Even if the proceedings leading up to the Moby Dick’s ‘entry scene’ isn’t exactly edge of the seat, In the Heart … sails smoothly.

Director: Ron Howard Genre: Drama Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland and Cillian Murphy Storyline: The true story that inspired the myth of Moby Dick

When it finally shows up and then several times over, you are left underwhelmed. The whale scenes aren’t bad— the aerial shot of it passing by the tiny whaleboats are expected but visual treat nevertheless. They provide much needed relief in the closing parts of the film. But while the presence of Moby Dick works in a novel, it doesn’t translate into cinema, where as we’ve seen time and again, the scariest monsters are born out of our own imagination.

But then again, In the Heart… is not a monster movie in the exact sense of the term. The whale doesn’t come across as a demon as much as it symbolises nature’s balancing act—–its gargantuan size and its immense power, a compensation for all the blood these men have spilled in the ocean for years. The fact that these raucous crew of a whaling-ship, with their arrogance and egos, are sailing towards a disaster, into the mouth of the greatest sea monster has its own cinematic pleasures.

But the film struggles when it underlines this morality tale— that at some level, these men deserve it. In a scene towards the end, the Hemsworth character Owen Chase spells this out in a supposedly poignant, humane moment with Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker); the two people whose ego-battle is earlier described jokingly as that of a married couple that can bring a ship down.

The bits where we see the workings of the whaling industry are culturally fascinating.

We are at a time and a place that was at the heart of the whaling industry. New England in 1820, where the surrounding seas have an abundance of whales giving way to a thriving industry of whale oil that lit the homes of many at the time.

The characters are broadly drawn, with Hemsworth playing the classic existential outsider, the fearless soul who belongs to the sea. One of the film’s most tense moments involves Chase and not Moby Dick but a calf. After being struck by a harpoon, and thought to be captured, it gives Chase and his fellow sailors a tough challenge and plunges into the endless depths of the ocean, with the harpoon running out of rope it’s attached to.

But scenes like these come few and far between and it misses out on the romance of Moby Dick . The novel is an adventure and a meditation at the same time. The film is watchable as a big screen, popcorn-cola experience, but it fails to go beyond a plain sea movie, being unable to dig into the rich and dense material of the original story.

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2022 6:14:58 pm |