An intriguing, but finally unsatisfactory film, that looks at the background of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. In five episodes, we see Ahab through the eyes of five people- his father, his aunt, Mulligan, a preacher who helps him, Anna, his lover, and Starbuck, the Pequod's mate. Each episode is interesting, but they don't hold together as a whole. At the end we don't believe that this accumulation- his father's refusal to take him hunting, his father's death, the religiously inspired cruelty of his aunt and her husband, his encounter with a couple of criminals who've come from Huckleberry Finn, his spiritual division between the sea and religion, his affair with the laundress Anna- explains or shows the monomaniac Ahab of Melville emerges from this history. We are shown nothing of Ahab in his days of glory as the greatest whale-killer in Nantucket, only his young childhood and his life after he loses his leg.
It's a stylised film- the characters speak in Melvillean language- not always reflected in the English subtitles- with some extraordinary shots, a good use of noise and music and a wonderful performance by the child who plays the child Ahab, marred by a little obviousness in ostentatious symbolism, a need to show rather than let us infer, some ignorance or nineteenth century new England- the two priests are portrayed as a French-style Roman Catholic village priest and a humane missionary, rather than as the Father Mapple of Moby Dick or the Calvinists who inspired him- unless Mulligan is the same man with his name changed for some reason.
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