It´s not just because of the Covid-restrictions but also the fast approaching dark months of winter time which make me more and more sit at home, laptop on my knees, spending time not outside on the seas but in the vastness of the internet. Like last Sunday – a fairly nice day, a bit rainy, chilly, uncomfy being outside. I am reclined on my sofa, next to me a pot of hot chocolate steaming, I rest my head in the soft pillow, check amazon prime for a good sailing movie. Here´s one I discovered by digging a bit deeper, skipping all the obvious, it´s the 2012 movie “Kon Tiki”. First things first: I really enjoyed watching this movie and I would call it a real gem. Here´s why.
Thor Heyerdahl, Norwegian hero, is of course one of the shiniest figures of that Scandinavian country. I know about his adventures since I was a small child, but never dove into his achievements in detail. The original documentary about his Kon-Tiki trip from Peru to the Polynesian archipelago won an Oscar back then, the book got translated to virtually al languages of the world, sold millions of times. I was excited and looked forward to that movie – and I ended up equally excited, no disappointment in this modern production.
The story of Thor Heyerdahl´s expedition
After a brief exposition lasting some three minutes we get to know Thor Heyerdahl: Watching him taking on risks, doing things other did not dare to attempt, even against all odds and ignoring the warnings of his friends. He nearly dies by drowning as a small kid: Cut. A quick introduction of the protagonist but good cinematic work. We then watch him on Fatu Hiva, a Polynesian Island where he lived for ten years, fell in love with his later wife but also being impregnated with the idea that Polynesia has not been populated by Asian people from the West but by “the Tiki people” from the East – Balsawood rafts and the currents of the Pacific. His theory rebuked (and it still is) by the scientific world, it´s the Peruvian leader himself finally financing the expedition.
After that romantic start, portraying Thor as a charismatic, charming and handsome man, fighting for his ideas, we see a first glitch in the otherwise perfect man: He sacrifices home, family, his marriage and even being a father to his two little sons for making his dream come true. The movie achieves a fine balance of creating a lovable character but also showing that this comes at a price. Heyerdahl as a cruel partner, no empathy, no remorse. He sacrifices his family – and finally sets off with a handful loyal Norwegian friends to the unknown.
On the raft, the routine of sealife sets in and quickly things do not develop as planned: The raft does not go along the desired route, weaknesses in the crew´s characters begin to show and the wear and tear of both the physical status of the raft itself as well as of the crew members deteriorate into solid conflicts and frequent outbursts of emotions. Thor manages to keep the crew together, but slowly looses control and his power to motivate the people. He demands full faith in his ideas, even when after a severe storm the raft begins to disintegrate and he refuses to repair the soaken wet raft with modern material.
Most gripping aspects of the movie
The movie comes in disguise of an old-fashioned adventure film. The style reminds of solid, light-hearted and short-whiled movies like “Indiana Jones” or “Quartermain”. And it is really fun to watch: When in the midst of a dramatic shark-attack with a fellow crew member fighting for his live after an MOB-incident one of the crew members throws shark repellant powder into the seas to scare away the predators another crew member says “What are you doing? This is tomato soup!” The perpetrator stops in awe, and another one asks: “But where is the shark repellant then?” – A hard laugh whilst still the poor guy in the water desperately tries not to get ripped apart by a shark.
But there is another layer to the film. A layer that is buried underneath the all too obvious adventure-like nostalgia this movie so invitingly offers. It´s the underlying horror of Thor Heyerdahl losing his standing as a skipper amongst the crew. The growing doubts, the increasing warning signs, harbingers of a catastrophe. It´s a shame that the movie fails to portray the severe storm more intensely – instead, it focuses of the characters, each of which carries his own set of demons which begin to haunt them more and more. The climax, of course, is reached when the friendship between Thor and Herman seems to go down the drain when Thor throws overboard the metal wires that could have saved the raft, instead demanding “faith” from his crew. None of which believed his dreams anymore.
It is a well shot drama, carried by a wonderful performance of the actors – all of them. They draw you into the movie and although the film is not too long it managed to enclose you into their world, shut you off from real life and for the duration of the movie you become a part of the crew. Even when the parrot of the boat gets eaten by a shark you feel connected, feel the loss for the men. In this, the movie is brilliant, able to motivate you without having to force it onto you with too many overblown special effects. Bow to the director, what a wonderful movie!
What I like about “Kon-Tiki” and why you should watch it
I loved the old-fashioned adventure-style of the movie and the secondary, psychological layer. This movie is fun to watch and offers a deep insight into people´s heads. It does not over-glorify the figure of Thor Heyerdahl by frequently showing the price that was to be paid for his success – the destruction of his family, of his marriage and his two little boys having to grow up without a father on their side. I also liked the mystic tone, the belief of Thor in his ideas and his almost religious faith in things falling into place as long as he believes they would. The portrayal of the hardship of this type of seafaring was beautifully shot, the comic relieves now and then would keep me hooked to the movie.
“Kon-Tiki” is definitely worth a watch. The film succeeds where “The Mercy” so dramatically failed. Laughter and tears are so closely together, like in real life, a motive that is carried through until the very last second of the movie, when real black-white footage shows each of the crew members and tells the story of how their life developed after the KON TIKI-trip and how they died. Thor Heyerdahl ceased in 2002 after a long and very interesting life. His theory – although proven that seafaring between Peru and Polynesia was technically possible – has been rebuked by DNA-tests which proved that this area of the world indeed has been populated by Asian people coming from the West. A last tragic, comic fact, like spice in this awesome adventure.
My overall rating of “Kon-Tiki” is 8 of 10 points
All pictures/standstills coutesy of Nordisk Film
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