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Whale Rider (2002)


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Maybe more people have had time to see this and can offer some comments. But JO, I am afraid to admit that I don't quite agree with your review. You gave it a B! How could you give that little girl a B?! Seriously though, I didn't think the first hour of the film was bad at all, even though it is formulaic at times, it is successful. Its raw energy is not dimished by its predictability.

And you had some comments on the small role that thier culture played in the script. Which is true. But I never cared. I really didn't see that as a major focus of the film, but rather Caro (I think that's her name) was more intent to get to the root of the little girl's relationship with her grandfather.

I thought the feminism at the root of the film was a refreshing brand of feminism, one that would fit the contemporary church very well.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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I can agree with your comments... that perhaps culture isn't really the film's focus, and the first hour isn't BAD (although I found it felt like so much set-up to me)... but I have to be honest: I don't find much about the film very engaging EXCEPT the girl and the film's finale. That's just personal opinion. Still, I think it's a charming film and one that I recommend.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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SPOILERS AHEAD, MATEYS!

I was very disappointed by this film. I felt like I was back in the 80's, watching an ABC After-School Special, with some grainy whale footage spliced in for good measure. The actors were all so expressionless, that I thought the whole village could've used some Prozac. The storyline moved the characters around like so many pieces of luggage -- for instance, the way the teacher-with-braces was unceremoniously dumped into and out of the scene where the girls' dad announced that his European girlfriend was pregnant. Grand-dad's moral transformation seemed equally unconvincing, by the time the utterly predictable ending rolled around (nothing like a coma to bring about a change of heart, I guess). Lastly, I thought some key scenes were poorly lit, while in other dialogue-laden scenes, the speakers were poorly framed, with parts of their heads cut out of the picture. It all just seemed very amateurish to me.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I didn't care for this movie either. I lump it together with The Fast Runner, which I hated (flame me if you must). If it weren't set in New Zeland in a Maori village, it would be standard straight-to-video fare.

Hey, I'm all for underrepresented groups getting screen time. We need new voices but like it or not, they've got to compete with the best of what Hollywood is doing. Is this a great step forward for Maori filmmaking? Yup (although I haven't seen Once Were Wariors so I can't compare the two). Does this movie stand up to other contemporary films in terms of cinematography, scripting, acting, etc? It holds its own. Is it fair to judge Whale Rider through Western eyes, with Western standards? I think so. Did they make an amazing film considering their budget and the talent they had to work with? Absolutely but I think all films should be judged equally, regardless of what trials were overcome to get it made.

There was one thing about this movie that I was especially impressed with - the way the filmmakers showed Maori culture without coming across as a native PSA. Cultural details emerged naturally through the storytelling - they never seemed forced on the viewer. And I read somewhere that this movie was the main character's first. What an amazing performance!

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I feel so much better having read your post, Randall -- I saw Fast Runner for the first time this past weekend, anticipating a revelatory flick. Instead, I felt I'd endured 3 hours of subpar acting with a dull and glacially-paced story line.

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I really liked Fast Runner for a lot of the same reasons I like Whale Rider. Fast Runner mythologizes by taking us back to a culturally primordial event. Whale rider mythologizes by bringing such an event into the present and reproducing it.

I like Whale Rider so much because the re-mythologization occurs in a feminist framework. Normally, I am not a big fan of this. But the feminism here was intriguing. The way Caro sets up the film (and I think her interior shots are great, she has an eye for establishing environments) is interesting. For her it seems, feminism should not be about restructuring cultural mythologies to renovate patriarchal ones, but about reforming the narratives that comprise these mythologies. Feminism should be a movement that exists within mythologies by participating in thier existing structure. It is not about abandoning the patriarchal, but "telling" the same story in a new way.

Compare this to the treatment of women in Fast Runner. That is a crazy little culture.

I think I enjoyed the story so much that I didn't mind some of the negligences in the cast. Thier despondency though may be more cultural than a result of bad acting.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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(minor spoilers)

I emerge from most films swimming about in a muddled, generally neutral soup of emotion and confusion. Over the next few days, the film then either rises to a place of admiration or falls away. The Whale Rider unfortunately followed the latter course for me. This is not to say that it doesn't have certain merits. The lead actress was entracing, and in general I thought the quality of the acting was surprisingly high for a somewhat indy film. I've few complaints about the script, and the photography was, at times, stunning. I even found myself choked up at the sight of the beached whales.

Whale Rider is a very watchable movie. It's pretty, and pretty people are easy to cheer for. But ultimately, it is also a very forgetable movie. Why should someone see this film (apart from some nice whale shots and a few pretty faces)? Are there any of us who haven't seen or read countless stories of heartless fathers who are brought around by determinded (and unfallible) women. Please don't misunderstand me: the world is full of heartless (or stubborn or reactionary) fathers, and redemption is always a beautiful things. But how many times must we jam the same old (and inaccurate) story into a new frame?

(bigger spoilers)

Two moments in the film sum up my response. The first came early with the three women smoking and playing cards. The ensuing rush to hide the smokes is really quite funny, but it also seemed designed to ellicit a specific sort of response. I felt slightly manipulated, but reserved judgement til later. The second moment was when the girl (sorry, I don't remember names) disappeared atop the whale. I was naturally caught up in the emotional wave of the story and so a part of me certainly wanted to see her return, alive. But somehow I knew, even then, that if she returned, the film would ultimately disappoint. And it did.

So you ladies and you gentlemen, pull your bloomers on...

-Joe Henry

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I'm a fan of myth also, (M)Leary -- I repeatedly chewed over D'Aulaire's books of Greek and Norse mythology as a kid -- I just didn't think these two films were particularly well-acted examples of myths translated to cinema.

In Fast Runner, I felt like I could almost read the minds of some of the secondary actors: "Uh oh, it's almost time for my lines; I'd better stand up and start making broad hand gestures."

Perhaps you're right, too, that the lack of expression of the villagers in Whale Rider was intended to convey despondency. However, this didn't seem convincing to me either -- I spend a good chunk of my workdays treating depressed people from other cultures, and there's a lot more spunk in those individuals than in the folks I saw in the Whale Rider village.

Ah well, to each their own -- I guess this is why we'll never reach a consensus on the standards of absolute beauty and aesthetics in this lifetime.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Indeed. I was refreshed by the film. Sure it follows some cliche patterns, but it seems to do so as if these patterns don't exist. You have to admit, it would be a hard script to pull off in any format other than a Lifetime Special Event Movie...and Caro does it.

Thanks for all of your thoughts.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm digging up this thread to tell everyone that you're all wrong. Except for the guy that started it, and i say that hesitantly because his head swells fast. :mrgreen:

SPOILERS FOLLOW, INTENDED FOR THOSE WHO HAVE COMMENTED THUS FAR.

This was absolutely my favorite film released this summer. Where were you people? An after school special? What? When was the last time you saw the grandeur of the mysteries of God's deep ocean on display in their torment, needing the help of a human to intervene? Or how about a little girl that rides one of those mammoth beauties into the deep? Or how about the new, rich variety of a foreign culture with all of its quirky (to us) ways, things like sticking their tongues out as a warning to an enemy ("I'm going to take your head off and swallow it whole!")... or competing for the status of Chief of the people... How many of you noticed how tenderhearted those people were to each other? All of the touching, the rubbing of noses, the hugs.... Even Koro, the grandfather, in all of his deep-seeded fundamentalist overtones was a stern disciplinarian due to his broken heart over the state of his people. While his actions are reprehensible, as terrible as he was to Pai, even his tender-hearted nature shows thru. He believes his actions are just, and for a cause. When he realized how wrong he's been he begs for forgiveness, he responds to a miracle with joy.

I was emotionally moved from the beginning. Who hasn't felt the crushing weight of expectations on your shoulders? Where else has this theme been better displayed than with the son and dad in the first 15 minutes of the story? And who here hasn't ever felt neglected and alone, like they couldn't get love from the one source where they needed it? Both Pai and her father's tears throughout the entire experience were so rich with emotion. Who was it above that said there was no emotion in this film? Did you see the speech Pai gave? Did you see the hurt in both her and her father's eyes when Grandad Koro claimed he didn't need her?

Keisha Castle-Hughes (Pai) gave the most brilliant performance from a child actress -- or perhaps from any leading female -- that i've seen this year. I was moved several times by her character's ability to put the feelings of her grandfather and their people first, even when their codes and regulations made no sense. She was even subjected to the humilation of nearly apologizing for being born, and for the fact that her twin brother died at birth. If she isn't nominated for something i am gonna puke. Serious. Cuz IMHO this summer has been full of regurgitated blitherings, and at least here the formula has feeling. Sure, there's a little bit of repression in this style of filmmaking, and the acting contains some of that as well. But that's because it's different from the rest of the mindless drivel we've been subjected to this summer, made to stand out as a patient story of a very real people.

And as far as i could tell there was no CGI in this film! How freaking refreshing! Has it occurred to anyone that filmmakers have forgotten about any other special effects than the dopey kind that come from computer nerds? Anyway, if there was CGI, it was the kind that was used right, and not made to look like every other movie in current American release.

Quite honestly, the comments above about Atanarjuat go a long way into predicting the kinds of movies you will and won't enjoy. Get outside of your culture! Dare to take things at a slower pace! Even i struggle with Tarkovsky, but i can surely see the worth in his films.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Thanks, stef! You've pretty much summed up what I'd have liked to say in defense of Whale Rider.

I also came away feeling that its message wasn't really "feminist," though Pai is female, but simply about each individual's heroic calling within the community. Pai may be called on to break or change tradition, but not everyone is; they're only required to stand up and do their best, and maybe a bit more within the established boundaries.

I think I need to see it again.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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Hey, I don't begrudge you your enjoyment of this film, though I stand by my perceptions of its flaws. To each their own.

Have I been 'Hollywoodized' in my expectations of a fast-paced movie with a completely tidy resolution? Perhaps to a degree (though the languidly-paced "Three Seasons" is one of my very favorite movies). Am I hopelessly stuck in my own culture? I hope not, since I have a passion for learning about other countries and their peoples, through relationships, travel, reading, dining, and film -- I just happened to dislike "Fast Runner" and "Whale Rider" for the reasons I already mentioned.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I also came away feeling that its message wasn't really "feminist," though Pai is female, but simply about each individual's heroic calling within the community.

I think that is well put. I did make some comments in a review about how there is a feminism in Whale Rider but "it is one that actually works." Pai isn't out to rewrite the stories that are at the root of her communities structure because they are patriarchal. She is determined to be a part of these stories even though she is a woman.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Andrew,

I did not mean for my statements to be a personal slam to any one person in the thread, but for some reason the comparison to an After School Special stayed in my mind and aggravated me. The rest of my diatribe should be seen as my own bitterness toward the part of my culture that i cannot stand. There's a fellow i work with who thinks he's into movies, but if i took him to Whale Rider he'd have no interest. No cars crashing. No people being shot. No fast paced relativist dialogue. I'm both saddened and angered at the kinds of movies that are in mainstream American theaters compared to others that are released that people just won't go to. The need to be entertained has seemingly been swallowed by the need to be motivated and moved by real art.

Or maybe i'm still upset that all that i could see in Spicer, MN was Lara Croft. wink.gif

I think to a certain extent we've all been "Hollywoodized," or at least shaped by a culture that promotes anything it possibly can to sell sell sell. No one at the top cares that those who frequent their films have lost the ability to engage art at its own level anymore. All we sometimes say is "That had great special effects, it was good," or "I was bored to death, it was bad." Or maybe that is at the level of what they're watching, who knows... I've made it a point lately to wait at least an hour before i begin really talking about a film. Maybe that sounds smug but i don't care. To be quick to judgement and to immediately take sides is just like woofing down fast food when you could've had a seven course meal. Sometimes a work of art requires patience that Mr. Typical Americana just won't allow time for, and that's too bad.

I fight this on a daily basis. I want to challenge everything i've learned so far in my viewing habits. If something stinks, i want to know what it is about the film that's disappointing. If it's something i don't understand from the point of view in another culture, i want to learn to appreciate it regardless of whether i "get it" it or not.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Hey Stef:

No offense was taken; I certainly did not take what you were saying as a personal slam.

I know I'm stating the obvious here, but this is one of the major drawbacks of online conversation, the difficulty in gauging the emotion behind what is written. I fear sometimes that my comments here will be taken as a personal affront, but I'm really not a curmudgeon, I just love a good, friendly debate.

I'm very grateful for the give-and-take that goes on here. Even in my 2 months of loitering on these boards, I've learned a lot and had some of my notions challenged in very positive ways.

I'm sorry if my "After School Special" comment overly offended you - even though I was very disappointed by "Whale Rider," perhaps I need to tone down some of my critical comments. Even if we don't agree on our views of certain films, I applaud your intention to transcend the baser tendencies of the broader moviegoing public, and I share this same goal.

Respectfully,

Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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DANGIT DANGIT DANGIT...

Naaa. Don't tone down the critical comments at all. We just disagree on this one. And i'm still in a foulie over Spicer.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I have to admit, one of the reasons I have a weird reaction to films like Whale Rider -- especially now that I'm dating an Orthodox woman and trying to understand her church better and all that -- is because they play so strongly to the individualistic, egalitarian, and anti-traditional attitudes of modern audiences. I appreciate what someone said about the film being a kind of feminism that works, because rather than re-write the patriarchal narrative as such, the girl tries to find her place within the existing narrative, etc. And yet, the way the whale calls out to the girl and bypasses the tradition within which she grew up, I feel like I'm watching a film in which God tells someone to disobey the teachings of the church, never mind that these teachings are said to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and whatnot. And I'm really not sure how I feel about that right now. Christian tradition, of course, contains within itself the overturning of earlier traditions, a la Peter's vision in Acts 10 and Paul's epistles, so I am not entirely opposed to that sort of thing -- but I wonder if it's too easy for us to tell ourselves stories in which God, nature, or whatever sides with the individual against the community.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Very interesting point. Especially in a time for when the church and secular worlds are all about "community".

But on the other hand, what would a film that takes the opposite approach look like? I was struck with L'Auberge Espagnole's utter fascination with the conformity of its characters, to the point that they all homogenize morally into an indistinguishable little community. And the film seems to offer this as an answer to the "euro-pudding" problem. Conform conform conform.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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It's funny you should mention that, Peter. I realized from the start that this was going to be a kind of messianic ala The Matrix "THE ONE" type of a film, and i watched it from beginning to end with this lurking in the back of my mind. I was continually reminded of Christ and his appearance on earth, and how he camein such a way that his humbled status shook the core of the foundations of the beliefs of the religious leaders in that day. His appearance in a manger instead of a palace, and his teachings which centered more on individual freedom rather than freedom from political repression were quite different than what the pharisees were expecting from OT prophecies (or at least the way they understood them). i guess i saw Pai in that light, too. Her going after the tooth could be seen as a small miracle leading up to her riding the whale, which of course compares to the resurrection and ascension into royal status. She even "died" and "rose again" if you see what i mean. I know it's your typical Christ-figure-in-the-central-role kind of story, but it works better because she challenges the religious constraints of her day.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Yeah Stef, but I never took anything she did as a "challenge" to the cultural "constraints" of the town. She seems oblivious to the patriarchal issues at least until the training, and then she is more miffed that she can't participate then she is at the history of patriarchy that has kept the women down for centuries.

Every thing she does is done with this inexplicable ease. She isn't out to prove that the whales are talking to her and only her, but she just kind of does these things with the grace of destiny.

Man, I hope she does another film.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Right you are. My parallel isn't meant to line up verse by verse, only the idea of it. One main difference is that she experienced her metamorphisis into messiah as a child, but Christ experienced it fully as a grown man. Had she lived until she were 30, perhaps things would've happened differently. Perhaps she would have been ticked off at the system in place, perhaps she would have had more authority to "overturn some tables." But as it is, she's just a kid, and whatever she learns about herself won't turn anything but a deaf ear until her miracle is shown to all.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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SPOILERS

I agree with what you said earlier, if she had died at the end, the film would have been much more powerful.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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I said that away from the boards, but yes, i think if the last 6 minutes were cut off and it ended on that sad, mysterious miracle, it would've have been a much better ending. Would've found an american audience, too, albeit a small one, but there are a lot of people out there who really like morbid endings. We don't get enough of them.

There's a little Shakespearean goth in everyone.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Well that, and it also would have lifted the movie into this mythical sort of experience.

It would have been just like the kid jumping into the canal at the end of Ratcatcher. The ambiguity of that scene makes that film.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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