If you like whales and sea adventures, this may or may not be a good review for you. I was disheartened with many parts of this movie. Here’s my review.
In the Heart of the Sea – The quest for whale oil to light cities is a global demand. Man ventured further and further into the deep blue unknown.
Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. February 1850. Nerman Melville, the writer, is planning to write the novel, Moby Dick.
Tom Nickerson is a shop owner in Nantucket. Herman is there to see him. He offers three months lodging for a night of talking. Herman wants to know what happened to the Essex. Tom is in his early 50’s. He tells the true story from his childhood. His story begins…
Owen Chase’s wife, Peppy, is with child.
The Essex has just been refitted and is scheduled to put to sea. Owen is offered a job as first mate. He is not happy, thinking he should be the captain due to his excessive experience at seamanship. He will have to wait until next time. He has it in writing. The Essex is a whaling vessel. Collecting whale oil is the mission.
George Pollard will be the captain. Pollard comes from a long line of famous whalers in his family. Also his family is prominent, scion in the area.
At home, Owen is angry at his position. Peggy doesn’t want him to be a whaler any more. He’s gone too long. Life’s at risk. They bicker.
As Owen rows a small boat to the Essex to set sail, there’s a prayer gathering on the dock. A minister prays for the safety of the crew and a full ship of whale oil.
Tom Nickerson was 14 at the time. It was late in the year. That’s why they got a birth. His friend, Barzillai was 17. Both orphans. Grew up on the wharf.
George and Owen meet on the ship as it sails. “Essex Nantucket” An estranged relationship from the start, due to George’s inexperience and Owen’s excessive experience. Too much so to be a first mate. The relationship is doomed from the beginning.
They sailed toward Cape Verdes, takes two weeks; their goal. Then onto the Pacific. Soon, they’re close to Halifax.
At dinner we learn that Owen’s father was in jail most of Owen’s childhood. Tom’s mother is buried in Smith’s Hill. A stone for his father too. He was lost at sea before Tom was born.
They are two days behind. Captain Pollard wants speed to catch the easterlies. He orders, “Set stunsails.” Owen questions the order. Even though they are in the Gulf Stream traveling at five knots. Is that wise? The captain’s orders are followed at Owens disapproval.
Before long they’re sailing into a squawl at eight knots. Owen is worried.
The storm is tearing the sails apart. Owen makes the best of the situation. Afterward Pollard wants to return to Nantucket for repairs. He also wants Owen to resign as first mate for disobeying orders. They quarrel.
Owen tells him his plan is a mistake. To keep going, out to sea. To fill the barrels with oil. Pollard grudgingly agrees. Their relationship worsens.
South Atlantic Ocean –3 months at sea
“Blows!” Sperm whale flukes!
They launch three small boats. Go after the whales. They killed a large bull. 47 barrels of oil.
Then sail farther out to sea. Past the Horn of South Atlantic. In the Pacific, not much luck. Nearly a year at sea.
ATACAMES ECUADOR – They meet Capitán Clemente Pelaez, of the Santa Maria. Another whaling ship. He sailed a thousand leagues along the equator. Into The Offshore Grounds. More whales than you’ve ever dreamed of. Hundreds of flukes. 3000 barrels in a single day. Except for that demon. A whale. White as alabaster. Hundred feet long. Killed six of his crew.
Greed got the best of Captain Pollard. He wanted to set sail immediately. Catch the south easterlies. They sailed a thousand leagues along the equator. Planned to be home with a ship full of whale oil in six months.
They sailed to the edge of sanity. Madness to sail out so far. The crew is scared.
The Off Shore Grounds –14 months at sea.
They lowered the boats and rowed into the sea full of flukes. Hundreds of them.
A giant whale attacked. Turns over the boats. Attacks the Essex. Owen gets a harpoon in the beast but it’s too big. It destroyed the Essex with its fluke. Also by ramming.
Essex is crippled. The whale stove the ship. Easton and Sanborn are dead. Drowned. The ship is taking on water fast. They salvage what they can. It becomes aflame!
The Essex sinks to its watery grave. The survivors are in three small boats with paddles.
2000 Nautical Miles West of South America. They hear the giant whale taunting in the distance. Fear sets in. Their goal, catch the westerlies to Easter Island. A 3000 mile journey.
34 Days Stranded in row boats- Open Sea
“Land ho!” They see land. Owen sees the giant whale at the same time. The whale attacks all three boats, capsizing them.
Everyone swims to the island. Perhaps Ducie Island. The boats wash up on shore, damaged but repairable. After a short time, the repairs are made and they sail for home. Four crew remain on the island. Owen vows to send a ship for them.
48 Days Stranded – Dying of dehydration and starvation, one crew dies. The rest resort to cannibalism to survive.
71 Days Stranded – 1200 Nautical miles west of South America. The men are drawing straws. Captain Pollard has the short straw. Cap hands Mr. Ramsdell the pistol. Ramsdell is to shoot the Cap in the head but cannot. Shot himself in the head instead. The pistol falling into the sea. Ramsdell is eaten by the men.
They were weeks in the doldrums. The Pacific Ocean – Desert. 800 miles from land. They are taunted again by the giant whale. It swims next to the boat as a very emaciated Owen is prepared to launch a handheld harpoon. Knowing he would only anger the great beast and get them all killed due to his lank of strength, while thinking about his wife and child at home, he wisely chose to forego the throw and let the monster leave in peace. Hoping the whale would extend them the same mercy.
Currents drew the boats apart. They never saw Pollard’s boat again at sea.
90 Days Stranded – February 18th 1821. The crew is gaunt to the point of near death. They are finally rescued off the island of Más Afuera, Chile. Ninety days after the sinking of the Essex. They were given food, shelter, and clothing on the island while recovering. Before long they sailed again.
The voyage home took another three months.
Nantucket Harbor—June 11, 1821. The mood was somber at the dock. Everyone knew the crew had been through something horrific.
Owen spots Peggy. He’s introduced to his daughter, Phoebe Ann.
At the docks, in a business meeting, Owen is told to lie on the report for profit. Report the Essex ran aground. The men that died, drowned. George is there. Owen refuses and walks out.
Later, Owen gives Thomas Nickerson a neck charm for friendship. Thomas treasures the charm as an adult telling this story.
George Pollard is called before the inquiry. The important men of Nantucket were there. He told the truth, “The Essex was stove by a white whale 1200 leagues west of Ecuador.”
Pollard went out again. Looking for the white whale. Never found it. Ran a ship aground off Hawaii.
Chase sent a boat to Ducie Island. Mr. Joy was dead. The other three were still alive.
Owen Chase moved his family to New Bedford. Became a merchant captain. Sailing on his own terms.
Herman Melville heads back to Pittsfield, Massachusetts to write his fiction novel.
Herman Melville completed his novel in 1850.
A year later Moby Dick was published.
Of Moby Dick Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “It is an epic worthy of Homer. It will be America’s epic.”
I found In the Heart of the Sea to be a disturbing sea adventure. The hardships the Essex crew suffered in the pursuit of whale oil was horrendous. To the point of nearly death. Some died.
Also, to hunt a species nearly into extinction for the oil is unimaginable. But it happened.
Being a whale enthusiasts, I found the scene in the South Atlantic Ocean after 3 months at sea, when they slay the bull whale, to be disturbing and difficult to watch.
My rating: 2.5 stars
May good fortune guide your path.