Kon-Tiki (2012)

kon-tiki IMDb

Considering this is a Norwegian film, it is quite impressive. I think about some of the crap Australia tries to pass off as entertainment and this is so much better than anything Australia produces. The production values alone just look so much better than our films. It is unfair to compare this film to anything coming out of America or England, where the budgets are bigger and the output so much higher, but I think comparing a film like Kon-Tiki to something coming out of the Australian film industry is fair. I have never had a high opinion of the Australian film industry, I feel like nearly every thing they make is a dour affair that makes you want to slit your wrists. That is not the case with Kon-Tiki. It is a beautiful looking film that shot on the ocean for realism. It is also a very uplifting tale.

Kon-Tiki is the story of Thor Heyerdahl (Pal Sverre Hagen), an explorer who believes that the Polynesian islands were originally settled by South Americans, not from Asia as people thought. Nobody will publish his theory as it is considered too out there for the scientific community to believe. In order to get his ideas published, Thor decides to build a boat using tools that would have been available when Polynesia was originally settled and sail there himself. After receiving some American funding, Thor gathers a small crew of five men, designs and builds a raft and sets off on his journey. The group encounter all kinds of dangers on the high seas, while they also cultivate some of the finest facial hair I have seen on screen.

Like I said, this is such a pretty looking film. The Polynesian and South American setting all looks incredibly picturesque. This film’s best achievement though is that they basically shot it twice. Once in English and again in Norwegian. For those wondering, we watched the English version. I noticed the film was nominated for best foreign language film at the Oscars, which surprised me as the film I was watching was all in English. A little investigating showed that they did indeed film the movie twice. Given the complexity of filming on the ocean, it is quite an achievement to be filming the same thing twice.

One of the negatives that I have about this film has nothing to do with the movie really. Sally informs me that this whole theory of Polynesia being settled by Peruvians has been debunked. I am not going to look this up, Sally’s word is good enough for me. If that is true, it does leave me a bit deflated watching the movie. We just watched Thor spend all of this time trying to prove his theory and actually gets his boat to Polynesia, only to find out his theories have already been proven false. It was like when I was studying psychology and we spent most of the first two years learning about Freud, only to learn in third year that much of what he said had been false. It was quite the slap in the face. This movie wasn’t as bad because it only took up 90 minutes of my life and not 2 years, but it was still disappointing.

The character of Thor was not very likable either. When he originally starts on his journey, he does so by telling his wife and young child over the phone that he is not coming back for a few months. He comes across as a bit of a jerk and you don’t really care so much if he accomplishes his task because of it.

Kon-Tiki is a pretty looking film, trying to tell an interesting story. An unlikable lead let down what is visually, a very stunning film.

Rating: C

I really don’t know how I feel about Kon-Tiki. On the one hand, this is a stunningly gorgeous film, shot under interesting conditions. On the other hand, the story revolves around a somewhat unlikable historical figure and his anthropological theory that has largely been debunked.

It’s almost impossible for me to separate the historical Thor Heyerdahl from the fictional one presented here. Heyerdahl sounds like a difficult person to get along with, and this movie doesn’t shy away from that. He’s portrayed as brash, stubborn, and selfish. The film’s major subplot shows him effectively abandoning his family in pursuit of this ocean adventure (He and his first wife, portrayed here, did divorce. He also divorced his second wife, admitting that a huge reason for this was him being away from home so much.). I have to admit that this approach to historical storytelling is refreshing. Movies often gloss over the less positive aspects of heroes lives, so to see the warts presented so plainly in Kon-Tiki is strangely satisfying, even when I wanted to punch Thor in the face.

Then there’s the issue that Heyerdahl’s theories of Polynesian settlement are largely unaccepted by the scientific community. I went into Kon-Tiki knowing this, but I can totally see this aspect being a huge let down for anyone unfamiliar with this expedition.

Still, you have to admit that the real life voyage of the Kon-Tiki was remarkable, and this film certainly conveys what a feat it was. The raft scenes in Kon-Tiki were filmed in open ocean, so you really get a sense of the vast isolation surrounding these men. There are also several scenes in the movie that you’d think were added to create drama, but are in fact what really happened (this can be verified in both Thor Heyerdahl’s book and documentary chronicling the voyage). And while it has no impact on the story itself, it’s interesting to note that Kon-Tiki was effectively filmed twice. Every scene was shot once in Norwegian, and again in English. That’s some very dedicated filmmaking.

Honestly, I think much of my criticism of Kon-Tiki is rooted in the real life journey that inspired it. But with a film like this, I don’t think it’s possible not to bring reality into the equation. This movie hews very close to actual events. It seems to paint an accurate picture of Thor Heyerdahl’s personality. Kon-Tiki is really just a slightly dramatized version of what really happened. But it’s also beautiful, suspenseful, and moving. Can it really be faulted for sticking so closely to the often inconvenient truth?

Rating: B

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