On the east coast of New Zealand, the Whangara people believe their presence there dates back a thousand years or more to a single ancestor, Paikea, who escaped death when his canoe capsized by riding to shore on the back of a whale. From then on, Whangara chiefs, always the first-born, always male, have been considered Paikea's direct descendants. Pai, an 11-year-old girl in a patriarchal New Zealand tribe, believes she is destined to be the new chief. But her grandfather Koro is bound by tradition to pick a male leader. Pai loves Koro more than anyone in the world, but she must fight him and a thousand years of tradition to fulfill her destiny.Written by
When the grandfather attempts to fix the small outboard motor, the rope he is using snaps leaving portions of the rope still attached to the motor. A moment later, the rope fragments are completely gone. See more »
In the old days, the land felt a great emptiness. It was waiting. Waiting to be filled up. Waiting for someone to love it. Waiting for a leader.
[child birth scene]
And he came on the back of a whale. A man to lead a new people. Our ancestor, Paikea. But now we were waiting for the firstborn of the new generation, for the descendant of the whale rider. For the boy who would be chief.
There was no gladness when I was born. My twin brother died, and took our mother with him.
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"Whale Rider" can accurately be called an art film, but it's also one that will appeal to mainstream audiences. That's because it has a strong story that deals with universal themes like family, tradition, childhood and rebellion. The story is unique and unpredictable but also comfortingly familiar.
The main character is a young girl named Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) who is the grand-daughter of the chief of a Maori tribe in New Zealand. Her twin brother, who was to be the future chief, died along with the mother in childbirth. Grief-stricken, her father (Cliff Curtis) fled, leaving Pai as the only family descendant, but of course she can't be chief because she's a girl. That doesn't stop her from trying, though.
Her grandfather (Rawiri Paratene), a stern, traditionalist chief, loves Pai dearly, but refuses to mess with tradition by even attempting to train her to be the chief of the tribe, even though she truly believes she is meant to be chief. He begins to train first-born male sons of other tribesmen, but Pai eavesdrops, soaking up all the knowledge she can.
The first 2/3 of the movie is excellently done but fairly familiar. Pai is a terrific and instantly sympathetic character and we feel for her in her struggle to assert herself in the face of a sexist tradition without losing the love of her stern grandfather. Then, in the last third, when the whales actually come into play, the story enters territory that is thrillingly unpredictable and incredibly powerful.
The ending, in particular, has quite an emotional punch.
It also bears mentioning that Keisha Castle-Hughes is one of the best child actors I've seen in years; she will get some tears from you, guaranteed.
This is a great movie for kids, but it's not a "kid's movie". It's moving, beautifully filmed, and inspirational without being the slightest bit cheesy. It's worth seeking out even if you don't follow the art-house circuit.
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