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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

A Whale of a Story

In the Heart of the Sea (2015) on IMDb

Plot Overview

Some underwater whale footage yields to the narrator asking: “How does one come to know the unknow­able?” In the early 1800s there was a “global demand for whale oil.” Satisfying it raised the question, “Monsters, are they real?” In 1850 Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) intending to write a whaling novel comes to Nantucket Island, Mass. (“You came”) seeking back­ground information (“Tell me what happened to the Essex”) from old timer Thomas Nicker­son (Brendan Gleason.) “You are the last survivor of the Essex, sir,” he tells him while offering him money for his story. His wife persuades him to earn the inter­view fee, “I will tell you of the Essex.”

Around 1819 Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) bade his wife (Charlotte Riley) farewell to “Go get your captaincy.” Instead, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) “scion of a great whaling family” was put in command of the Essex, and Chase was his first mate. To the fore­boding words, “The Lord created the mighty whales” (see Gen. 1:21)—this story occurred before Darwin invented evolution—they set sail for “Cape Verdes the next two weeks, Pacific by September,” with a new crew­man aboard (“I was 14, 14 first time to sea”) Thomas Nickerson (Tom Holland.) They catch and process a whale (“There she blows!”) that yields 47 barrels towards their 2,000 barrel quota. Three more months in the South Atlantic Ocean was unproductive, so it's “a month around the Horn” then up to Atacames, Ecuador where a distressed Spanish captain informs them of a whale pod some 1,000 leagues along the equator, watched over by “That demon of a whale, white as alabaster, 100 feet long.”

That's where they head (“This is madness”) for fourteen months at sea under the off­shore winds to discover, “It's true. Yes, too much is true.” The experienced seamen have “never seen a whale like that.” The ship is over­whelmed (“The whale, sir, it stove the ship.”) They are in deep doo doo (“The pumps are useless, sir”) as they “prepare to abandon ship.” They're “2,000 nautical miles west of South America”, outside any shipping lane, facing the elements in open boats, and drawing a lurking menace after them to dog their slow progress.


“In the Heart of the Sea” has an unusual structure one might call a "marriage sandwich." The narrative is conducted by an old man out of deference to his wife to get it off his breast. It follows the career of a seaman in his prime whose long separation worries his pregnant wife. And it concerns a mismatched captain and first mate who are “like a married couple” learning how “to tolerate each other.” We do well here to consider the actual definition of marriage. I'll quote Dr. Ide: “The Con­tem­por­ary Christian stan­dard was defined not by the bible but gen­er­ated by Roman law as defined by the jurist Modes­tinus who argued that marriage was ‘consortium omnis vitae, divini et humani iuris communi­catio: a life-long part­ner­ship, and a sharing of civil and religious rights’” (83–5). The narrator Thomas Nicker­son had kept the details of his Essex trip from his wife whom he feared could not accept a husband who'd committed abomination to stay alive rather than starve to death (“No right minded sailor discards what might yet save him.”) He did not want so much as a whiff of abomination to sully his sacred marriage. The first mate's marriage, on the other hand, was presented in the civil sphere where his daughter born during his absence was dubbed with her father's (legal) last name.

This latter marriage was a product of Massachusetts an historical Puritan strong­hold, so let's look at their culture. According to cultural historian David Hackett Fischer, the Puritans had “a cultural idea of marriage that was unique to the Puritan colonies. … The Puritans of New England rejected all the Anglican ideas. They believed that marriage was not a religious but a civil contract” (77). Since their marriages weren't at all sacramental, there was no problem sullying them with abomination in the religious sense. We see evidence of this in modern times when it was Mass. (followed by the rest of New England & NY & DC) who first embraced same-sex marriage not having the religious qualms against abomination in it, as per (Lev. 18:22) “Thou shalt not lie with man­kind, as with woman­kind: it is abomination.” It was the courts not the people who forced acceptance of same-sex marriage as a legal requirement on the rest of the states who felt such qualms and still do. In 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the states' bans against same-sex marriage was pseudo-unconsti­tutional—marriage isn't actually mentioned in the Constitution. Yet quoting from the “Catholic Sentinel” of July 3, 2015 (15):

The main opinion recognized in several places the role of religious beliefs in the questions surrounding same-sex marriage. Kennedy said toward the conclusion of his 28-page opinion that “it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

The First Amendment ensures protection for religious organizations and individuals as they seek to teach the principles “that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths,” he continued, and to “their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.”

In this movie are represented gay marriages of three different sorts. The first mate and his wife had a gay marriage upon their joyful reunion as gay can mean happy. One of the ship­men carving a bright figurine of his model wife had a gay marriage as gay can mean brightly colored. Gay nowadays can also mean stupid, as we'd say “That's so gay!”, which is the kind of marriage the captain and first mate had, neither one wanting the arrangement. Because the word gay has different meanings, the courts, despite news­paper head­lines to the contrary, never legalized "gay marriage" but used precise legal terminology to legalize same-sex marriage. Since the term marriage can refer to the close union of any two objects—here the captain & 1st mate—and since all the ship­mates were men, the marriage so to speak of Pollard and Chase was a same-sex one. (I'd prefer to say they had a same-sextant marriage.) Further­more, the crew spoke of the orphan boy Nicker­son as having been adopted into this ship family. This is just a matter of commonly accepted terminology as used, say, by novelist David Rich: (166)

“They're like children in a divorce,” I said. “Playing one parent off against another.”

Spera did not like hearing that. “We were never married to the Taliban. We were married to the Mujahideen. The Taliban defeated them. So it's like one parent and one step­parent.”

This movie goes to some lengths to establish that contrary to the objections of non-Puritan dominated states, a definition of a same-sex[tant] marriage out­side of the religious sphere is a complete non-issue so long as nobody makes it one. Probably along the lines of the apostle Paul answering the Corinthians' question of what to do if member­ship in a guild required them to attend meetings where meat was served that had been offered to idols. (1Cor. 8:4-6) “As con­cerning there­fore the eating of those things that are offered in sacri­fice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” It was a non-issue. Unless some­body was bothered by it. (1Cor 8:9-10) “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of your's become a stumbling­block to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast know­ledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols?”

If a Christian (or sensitive) baker is asked to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, since there is no religious basis to their marriage in the first place, it should be a non-issue. This movie serves up its own example, the camera following a grand meal imbibed by the officers, the swill the crew had to swallow, Thomas getting sick to his stomach and heaving up, but then Chase forced him any­way to crawl into the stinking head of a sperm whale to scrape up the last remnants of oil. Some­times one has to suck it up and do what his boss (or regulators) says.

Once we're talking about marriage as a close union of two somethings, we can find another layer to this sandwich in the field of science. Light is a stream of particles (photons.) Light is a wave. Both views have to tolerate each other, because light is some­times better thought of one way, some­times the other. “In the Heart of the Sea” contains a fortuitous illustration of such a duality, seen during a whale hunt. A spear is attached to a rope line that's stored coiled in a succession of open half-barrels. When the speared whale dives deep, the rope spools out in loops, i.e. waves. Before the rope plays out to the fag end, a sailor deftly ties it to the start of a barrel in the next boat. The line is both a continuous series of coils and also a succession of discrete barrels depending on how one wants to look at it. The two properties are married to each other.

A nineteenth century scientist used the particle nature of light to develop a greenhouse gas theory of the atmosphere to predict global warming. According to his theory, "green­house gases" such as carbon dioxide (CO2) envelop the earth to hold in radiated heat as occurs in a terrestrial green­house. I've discussed in my review of “The Martian” where a botanist on Mars uses a green­house to grow potatoes, how green­houses work by preventing heat loss through conduction and convection, not by radiation, but for the moment let us ignore that detail. Also the CO2 is distributed through­out the atmosphere, not in a thin layer on top of it, but let's ignore that detail, too. Space is a perfect insulator against convection loss and conduction loss. Details, details.

According to his theory particles of light come down through the atmosphere pretty much unattenuated and get reradiated back out as infrared whose lower frequency is partially absorbed by the CO2 layer and partially reflected back to earth to again bounce back losing more energy in the process every hop, resulting in atmospheric heating, warming the earth. In the real world energy is transferred from warm bodies to cold, not the other way around, so his mathematical model is flawed, and all those cancellations from light traveling in two directions make his equations unstable and thus unwork­able in the real world. However, if you take light as a wave, add a factor for variability, and the equations become stable and predictive, but they don't predict global warming.

The marriages in this movie contain a partner who is practical and one who is not. The first mate's wife wants him to take a position as a merchant seaman so he won't have to be gone so long. The old survivor's wife wants him to accept the needed money to tell the story he's afraid to. The experienced first mate wants to skirt the squall, the politically appointed captain wants to brave it to make good time. My degree is in engineering, so I accept the practical wave application and don't worry about any global warming.

Having that background the movie makes more sense to me. Scientists concerned about global warming use computer models in which the earth is represented by a disc warmed by a diffused light from a sun source. This movie in tracking the progress of the Essex makes it clear that we are living on a globe, a sphere if you will, not on a disc, with a sun influence strongest at the equator. Further­more, the big screen portrays the vastness of the ocean, the world, only spotted by human developments here ant there. It's harder to think of a man-made global warming through burning of carbon fuels after seeing this movie. When the Essex sunk and its oil exploded, the seamen were concerned about being drawn down after her, not about the burning fuel raising the ocean around them. Places we hear about in Alaska where coastal cities are infringed on by an encroaching sea are the result of natural land sinkage, not of rising sea levels.

Today's (2015) political climate is one of haste to ward off global warming predicted by outmoded and flawed science, just as the hereditary captain in a hurry would brave a squall that his experienced first mate wanted to avoid. As Rich put it in his book, “Like a lot of naïve people, Spera was brave” (165).

Production Values

This film, “” (2015), recounts the 1820 sinking of the American whaling ship Essex. That incident inspired Herman Melville's American classic, Moby Dick. This film is based on Nathaniel Phil­brick's non-fiction book In the Heart of the Sea. It was directed by Ron Howard. The film story was written by Charles Levant, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. It stars Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw and Brendan Gleeson. Hems­worth and Murphy live up to their talent. Walker and Holland make a good show. Whishaw and Gleeson just get by.

MPAA rated it PG–13 for intense sequences of action and peril, brief startling violence, and thematic material. The back­ground score tracks with what­ever unfolds on screen, circling around the soothing notes of a viola that adds warmth to the flick. Splendid set pieces recreate in detail the early 19th century surroundings. Cinema­tog­rapher Anthony Dod Mantle irradiates his images in a very warm glow using bright color tones. Howard's editing is a mixed bag for its frenetic action segments punctuating a sea-slow plot. The CGI is credible but not seamless.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I enjoyed this picture immensely as I like all kinds of movies, sea tales not the least. It works best as political satire and family tension, but is only passable as a thriller or sea drama. Since it's well made and does what it set out to do, I'm giving it high marks though it might not live up to every­one's expectations depending on what they are. It's not for the faint of heart.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Edge of your seat action. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: Several suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Five stars ou of five.

Works Cited

Scripture taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Fischer, David Hackett. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America.
  New York: Oxford UP, 1989. Print, WEB.

Ide, Arthur Frederick. Noah & the Ark: The Influence of Sex, Homo­phobia and Hetero­sexism in the Flood Story and its Writing.
  Las Colinas: Monument Press, 1992. Print.

Rich, David. Middle Man. New York: DUTTON, 2013. Print.