In the Heart of the Sea is about a whale. It’s based on a true story that makes quite a tale. All in all, it makes a fine flick … especially if you want to learn more about Moby Dick.
Chris Hemsworth plays the first mate of the Essex, Owen Chase; who, when it comes to sailing, is an ace. Benjamin Walker plays his captain, George Pollard, Junior.; he’s new to the life of a whaler, a late bloomer. Leaving from Nantucket, the crew hunts whales for oil, a profitable business back in the days of yore … and as you probably know, Chris Hemsworth became famous by playing Thor.
Chase, Pollard and their crew set out to sea, hoping to bring back a huge bounty, coming back empty-handed would make them the laughing stocks of their county. The two men bicker, not friends at all. Chase is worried that Pollard’s lack of experience will set them all up for a fall.
Chase’s fears at first prove correct, as Pollard’s foolishness with an approaching storm almost leaves the ship wrecked. But soon the crew spots a school of whales by the sound of their spouts, but even so, the crew of the Essex was still in a drought.
Sail on they did for many months, eventually around Cape Horn; along the way, we find out that Owen Chase won’t eat corn. The Essex eventually makes it far into the Pacific, where the whales numbered a lot; but lurking below the water, oh, what hell has wrought.
A large sperm whale destroys the ship, using its tail to crush as the big monster flips. The Essex crew is abandoned at sea because with all that oil, the ship is flammable … eventually, with no other options, the crew have to become cannibals.
While watching In the Heart of the Sea, you get the gist right away; although there’s an undercurrent to the film, which paints people in shades of grey. You see, the film portrays the whaling industry as abhorrent, which is exactly what that practice should warrant. But Chase himself is portrayed as a good man, and learns some lessons about himself when he faces what might be his last stand.
There are some details that are confusing, especially involving Brendan Gleeson’s character, Thomas Nickerson … who, when he was a much younger man, was a crewmember on the Essex, a young fisherman. Nickerson tells his story to Herman Melville, which frames the story; Nickerson often gets upset when the story becomes gory.
Nickerson’s tale of the Essex ends in 1822, his younger self played by 19-year-old Tom Holland, who we see vomiting from seasickness into a can. Holland has gotten a lot of attention of late because he will be playing Spider-Man. Moby Dick was published in the year of our lord, eighteen fifty one; which means Tom Holland became Brendan Gleeson in less than 29 of Earth’s rotations around the sun. Gleeson’s version of this character is grizzled and full of grit, but if he’s only in his mid-40s at this point, the only explanation is that he’s seen some shit.
In the Heart of the Sea will satisfy your itch if you crave a boating tale, but after what the crew of the Essex experiences, you most likely won’t want to set sail. And in the end, we find out the limits a person will go to not be called a coward … at least from the perspective of director Ron Howard.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.