One of the most tender, heartbreaking scenes I've ever watched in any movie in any year at any time came in Whale Rider.
I cannot sit through this scene without weeping. Fortunately, I've never watched it with anyone, and at least five times alone.
I'm just going to state up front that this movie is a 10 out of 10. It would easily make my top 20 list.
Now that we have that out of the way, let me explain why a middle-aged American male can so deeply love the story of a twelve-year old Maori girl, Paikea Apirana (Pai), on the far side of the world in New Zealand who strives to be Chief.
Because for me the movie is about desperately clinging to tradition, rejecting and coming to terms with progress, and the human condition both the good and the not-so-good. I get all three of those. The cultural details I can learn or get from context . . . and do.
Pai's boy-twin died at birth along with her mother.
I see a grandfather, a Chief, who rejects his own granddaughter at birth, relents on a human level over time, but still blames her for the problems in the tribe, resents that she . . . being a girl . . . wants to learn the ancient ways. He ignores that his granddaughter has all of the qualities he wants and needs in the future Chief . . . except a penis.
Damn was I rooting for Pai, yes, a 12 year-old Maori girl from the far side of the world.
I rooted so hard for her beloved grandfather's eyes to open, to finally see what he was not raised to see.
Pai has a surprise for her grandfather at a concert featuring Maori chants. She wanted to honor him, and presents a speech for which she won a regional contest, unbeknownst to any in her family. She wanted to let her grandfather know then how special he was to her and to present the chant of a Chief and express her desire to be that leader.
Watching Pai, beautifully portrayed by Keisha Castle-Hughes (who deservedly was nominated for an Oscar), fight to maintain control as she delivers the speech, alternately winning and loosing the battle, while she stares at the empty seat that was for him just stole my heart.
Had this been a lesser movie, we would have seen the grandfather, Koro, depressed and unforgiving refusing to go . . . or dressing up to the nines and showing up at the last second.
This is NOT a lesser movie. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the ending!
Perfect! And believable! And magical!
In my soul I think that every young girl and, maybe especially, every young boy should watch this movie!
Scratch that. EVERYONE should watch this movie.
Certainly Koro understood in the end that his twelve year-old granddaughter Pai had surpassed him as a Chief and earned the family name of Paikea. A young girl brought the whole family line back together by . . .
Yes, riding the whale as her ancestor had done.
What do you think, Jodie?
Read Jodie's review here.
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