Title: Kon-Tiki (2012)
Directors: Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg
Cast: Pal Sverre Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Tobias Santelmann, Gustaf Skarsgard, Jakob Oftebro, Agnes Kittelsen, Odd Magnus Williamson
Kon-Tiki is the real life story of a Norwegian adventurer named Thor Heyerdahl who in 1947 was hell bent on undertaking an expedition across the Pacific Ocean. But this wasn’t just any old expedition Heyerdahl wanted to put together, nope, Heyerdahl wanted to go on a wood raft across the Pacific Ocean. He wanted the raft to be constructed with the materials that people had in the past, nothing modern, just basil wood and rope. He wanted to prove that in the past, man could have traveled long distances on rafts made of wood. Heyerdahl wanted to prove that these long treks could have taken place and that technological limitations didn’t stop people of the past from achieving these journeys. Basically, he was kind of like a Jacques Cousteau, the famous biologist/adventurer; actually, Cousteau and Heyerdahl were contemporaries. I admire guys like these, I mean; they give up a normal life to live extraordinary ones. Their lives were filled with real life adventure; which is probably why the tagline for this movie is “Real Adventure Has No Limits”.
So yeah, this is one of those “based on real life events” type of films, even though from looking at the trailers, you might get the idea that it’s some sort of fantasy. And speaking of fantasy, the film has some similarities with a couple of movies out there, but the most blaringly obvious one is Life of Pi (2012). Both films are about people traveling on a raft through the perilous, unpredictable ocean. On both films the travelers meet beautiful marine life, gigantic whales, sharks, glowing sea creatures, flying fish. Both films also explore the validity of faith, of believing in what we can’t see. While Life of Pi preaches about the Christian concept of God, Kon-Tiki has a character fiercely believing in ‘Tiki’, a Polynesian God. At one point this belief in ‘Tiki’ is questioned when a character tells Heyerdahl “nobody believes in your Tiki story” to which Heyerdahl replies “Then why are you here?” So Kon-Tiki has various levels of similarity with Life of Pi, the difference is that while Life of Pi is more of a fantasy film, Kon-Tiki happened for real. These crazy guys really did take this journey through the Pacific on a raft they built themselves. The film also had some similarities with a film I love very much called Joe Versus theVolcano (1990), a film in which Tom Hanks also embarks on a journey through the ocean on a small raft. Joe Versus the Volcano is a film that gets quite existential, it also touches upon the idea of god. At one point Joe actually looks up at the heavens, talking to a God whose name he does not know and thanking whoever that being might be. What is it with films about people taking perilous journeys on rafts and the theme of God? It might have something to do with pitting man vs. nature; nature on these films being the closest thing to God an idea that pops up in all three of these films, the idea that nature and life are so grand that they are worthy of our worship.
In Kon-Tiki, the part of the story that amazed me the most is the one about these guys building this raft all on their own and deciding to just do it. I mean, this took guts because they wanted to make the journey sans anything modern, save for a radio to communicate with in case of emergencies. Heyerdahl even tried looking for funding through National Geographic magazine, a help which the magazine denied because Heyerdahl’s journey seemed downright suicidal to them. Which made sense to me in a way, I mean, when the journey begins, you feel as if these guys are so green, they really don’t know much about traveling through the ocean, much less on a wood raft. You kind of get the feeling that the sea is going to give them a good whoopin’. But what they lacked in experience, they made up with sheer adventurous spirit. And a grand adventure it was, the film portrays all their adventures, their fights with sharks, whales, the weather and themselves. Those scenes where the men interact with nature bring up some of the most spectacular moments in the film, my favorite being their encounter with a whale, such an awesome scene. It reminded me a bit of that elusive mythical fish in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), yet another film about a group of adventurous men in the sea.
Thor Hayerdahl wrote about his experiences and printed them in a book called The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft across the South Seas. He also took Cousteau’s example and filmed the whole expedition with hopes of turning the footage into a documentary, which ended becoming a documentary called Kon-Tiki (1950). By the way, that documentary won an Oscar in 1951! Heyerdahl continued doing expeditions after this one, there’s actually a whole museum dedicated to all of his journeys where you can see all the different rafts he made for these different journeys. The guy dedicated himself to a life of adventure and exploration, so much so that he sacrificed his family life and this is something that the movie addresses a bit, how his journeys destroyed his marriage. This is a concept that’s been played out in films about people who are so devoted to achieving a certain goal, that they opt to sacrifice everything, marriage, love and even family life. These are people that feel that what they are doing is bigger than themselves, so they pay the price. At the end of the day I thought the film was very motivational, it also reminded me of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982), yet another film about a determined dude in a boat going against all odds. Final words on this film is that even though it is a really beautiful film to look at and one with some amazing moments in it, it needed maybe a little more conflict, a little more intensity in its plot; but aside from that, I personally really dug this movie. The Norwegian directors of this film, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg did such a swell job with this movie that they are now directing the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film, looking forward to that, it will be interesting to see what kind of feel they can add to that franchise. Bottom line is, if you love nature, need to be inspired and have an adventurous spirit, this one comes highly recommended.
Rating: 4 out of 5