For the Beach Party Blogathon: Whale Rider

Two fabulous classic movie bloggers,  Speakeasy and Silver Screenings announced weeks ago their intention of hosting a blogathon dedicated to nothing but Beach movies.  I decided to jump in and join  the fun, however, I decided to pick a different kind of Beach movie, which I’ll explain shortly.  For a fun series of posts to read this weekend, be sure to visit the two movie sites I’ve linked to.  It’s just the kind of fun reading that Summer time beckons us all to do!

Beach party Blogathon

I chose the 2002  New Zealand film, Whale Rider.   While it does have beach scenes, it isn’t the typical beach movie.  No rock and roll music, no  teens doing the twist in the sand, no surfer dudes;  instead it’s a film about family, traditions, and yes, whales, beached ones to be specific.  Please don’t begin to think that this film is a downer, though the family at it’s core does have some issues to work through.   It is a feel good film and I thought a fine, marked contrast with the other beach films the various bloggers are featuring on their sites.

Whale Rider poster

Whale Rider concerns itself mainly with Paikea Apirana(Keisha Castle-Hughes), whom everyone in her family and small community call  Pai(Pie).  The film opens with a voiceover by Pai, informing us about her traumatic entrance  into the world.  Her mother and twin brother die during the twins’ birth, her father, Porourangi(Cliff Curtis), is devastated, and her grandad, Koro(Rawiri Paratene),  is especially upset that the boy twin didn’t survive.  We learn that Granddad is a proud Maori leader, that he takes it upon himself to teach the preteen boys in the community about all of the Maori tribal customs, and that the oldest son is to take on that responsiblity and in turn, pass those traditions down to the boys when he, Granddad, is no longer able to do so.  Granddad was expecting his firstborn, Pai’s father, to carry these traditions on and that in turn, the newborn twin son would grow up and do the same.  Now that the twin baby boy is dead, Granddad is angry, and resents baby Pai’s surviving.  He is adamant that a girl cannot pass on tribal customs.

The film  jumps 11 years.  Pai’s father  left her in the care of his parents and he moved to Germany to pursue a new life and his art career.  Pai’s grandmother, Nanny Flowers(Vicky Haughton),   is a loving woman and the only person who can tell Granddad off when he’s getting too grumpy about the way life is turning out for his family members.  Pai’s father decides to come home to New Zealand for a visit and Granddad immediately tries to fix him up on a date with the local school teacher.  This forces Pai’s father  to admit that he has a girlfriend in Germany and that he doesn’t want to “date” the teacher.   Besides, his girlfriend and he are expecting a baby.  This doesn’t sit well at all with Granddad and soon the visit is over, with Pai agreeing to return to Germany to live with her father and his girlfriend.  At the last minute, Pai changes her mind and tells her father that she loves him but that she cannot leave her grandparents, so reluctantly, her father drives her back to his parents’ home.

Granddad riding Pai to school on  his bicycle.

Granddad riding Pai to school on his bicycle.

Maori legend is a big part of the film.  The term Whale Rider is based upon the Maori legend that the father of their people rode a whale from Hawaii to New Zealand to begin their new home.  Legend also states that the new leader of the people will also be able to ride a whale.  Granddad decides it’s time to teach the preteen boys in the village the Maori ways so they’ll grow up to be proper Maori men.  Pai wants to also learn the tribal ways and  Granddad kicks her out of the first meeting!   Not to be stopped, Pai  spies on the lessons to copy  the warrior steps, the sticking out of the tongue,  and  the handling of the fighting stick, but Granddad catches her and chases her away.  Pai then turns to her Uncle Rawiri(Grant Roa), who was a champion with the fighting stick at tournaments and he agrees to teach her what he knows of the art.  The boys that Grandad is trying to train mess up again and again, managing to even lose a precious whale tooth that he throws in to the ocean expecting one of the boys to retrieve it.  Of course, it is Pai who retrieves it, and Granddad isn’t happy to find this out.  He begins to glower more at Pai and to state that anything bad that happens in their community is because of her attempts to learn the tribal ways that only men should know.

Granddad training the boys.

Granddad training the boys.

Pai spying on the boys training with the fighting sticks.

Pai spying on the boys training with the fighting sticks.

Uncle training Pai

Uncle training Pai

Finally, as Pai gives an award-winning speech at her school’s event night, a speech she meant to honor her Granddad with, the community is made aware, by Granddad who was late on his way to the school, that a number of whales have beached themselves near the town.  Residents run to the beach and attempt to move and coax the whales back  into the sea.  As Pai tries to touch one of the whales, Granddad orders her to stop and blames her again for the bad things that have happened due to her trying to learn Maori men’s customs.  As the towns folk return to their homes, Pai touches the biggest whale, manages to climb on top of his back, and the whale awakens and enters the sea!

Pai, in Maori costume, giving her speech at school

Pai, in Maori costume, giving her speech at school

I won’t reveal anymore of the film’s plot as I want you to find it and view it.  Will Granddad learn to really love his grandaughter, Pai, and get over his “Women can’t learn the Male Maori traditions” belief?  Will Pai’s father come back to New Zealand to embrace his Maori culture instead of trying to fit into a Western European culture?  Will Pai and her father grow to have a closer relationship?  What happens to the beached whales?

I watched the movie with my 12 year old son and he liked it.  He didn’t quite understand Granddad’s treatment and grumpiness towards Pai, but was satisfied with the ending, as was I.  When the movie came out in 2002, it was touted as a family film, but it is rated PG-13.   I think most of it would bore young children unless the children are 10 years or older, so take that into consideration if you want to rent the movie for a family movie night.

Whale Rider is out there on dvd and I had no trouble locating it at out local movie rental store.  It is available for purchase through Amazon or it’s instant rent program.   The film is also available on Netflix.     Here is also a link about the Maori people of New Zealand, in case you are interested in reading about them.  Lastly, the cast and crew of Whale Rider is listed here.  Here is also the trailer for the film from Youtube.    Whale Rider poster 2



10 responses to this post.

  1. Such a powerful coming-of-age film, and one I’d never have thought of for this blogathon — but should have. Great choice and overview.


  2. Christ, I love this film


  3. So happy you covered this film, it’s incredibly beautiful – both visually and in terms of the story – and deserves to be appreciated by a wider audience.


  4. I don’t think I’ve seen any films about the Maori culture and am not even sure if I’ve seen any films from New Zealand. This one sounds excellent and I will hope to see it. A great contribution to the blogathon – it’s amazing how many different types of beach films there are.


  5. I will definitely make the effort to see this film. Upon its release it was not something that interested the kids in my life so it didn’t reach me. Those awkward ages are awkward in more ways than one.


  6. […] by Jenni examines the haunting and beautifully filmed Whale Rider […]


  7. I love this movie and am so glad you chose it for the blogathon. It’s been several years since I’ve seen it, yet I still remember specific scenes. That girl turned in an amazing performance.

    Thank you for bringing this wonderful movie to the blogathon. 🙂


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