Ron Howard films are a category unto themselves. His films have interesting subjects and engaging characters. In the Heart of the Sea is heavily laden with his distinctive style. His biographical films always have a way of bringing to light the humanity of historical events. This film was spectacularly done and so engaging that after watching it I was sympathetically dehydrated for the crew. I was emotionally exhausted after the film, but it was an intriguing ride.
Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) is interviewing the last surviving crewmember of the doomed whaling ship, Essex. We see the events that inspired Moby Dick from the point of view of the youngest member of the crew, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson). The struggle between the captain (Benjamin Walker) and the first mate (Chris Hemsworth) take back seat to the internal struggle Tom has with reliving horrors of surviving at sea. The story in a story aspect of the film gives us several layers to process, but the film seamlessly blends them.
The heart of this film is a story about the struggle to survive after being brought to the edge by an unfathomable force of nature. It also explores the power struggle of the captain and first mate, the fight of man dominating nature, and nature fighting back. But the most engaging part was Tom's struggle for solace and deliverance from his haunted past. He has been bottling up his memories and fears and Melville gives him a chance to make peace with his past.
Watching the surviving crew wither away from dehydration and starvation takes its toll on the viewers. It is a high sea adventure that is better than any fantasy, it was based on true events, and that makes it even more terrifying to watch.
You very much have to be in the mood to see a film like this. It’s very accurate in its depiction of the wailing industry and the accuracy of the toll surviving takes on the body and mind are not for the faint of heart. Beware: “There be demons here.”
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