A review of “Whale Rider”
by Jeanne Aufmuth
Rating: PG-13 for adult
Time: 1 hour,
pervades every frame of this beautifully constructed coming-of-age tale that catches
a one-two punch from a generous measure of feminism.
Konohi tribe of Eastern New Zealand is rich
with culture, a reality foremost in the thoughts of formidable Whangara village
chief Koro (Rawiri Paratene). When twin
grandchildren are born to Koro’s son Porourangi (Cliff Curtis), Koro assumes
that the male child is the next descendent of Paikea, the legendary ancestor
who rode into the village on the back of a fabled whale. But the baby boy dies shortly thereafter,
leaving in his wake a dead mother, a grieving father, and the girl child Pai,
named for the tribe’s venerated ancestor in a shocking break with Maori
abruptly abandons New Zealand to seek
his destiny abroad, leaving Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) behind in the care of
her no-nonsense grandparents. Pai’s
strong sense of spirit and union with the ancient traditions is clouded by her
grandfather’s lingering disdain for her gender. Koro ultimately gives up the
dream of his eldest son returning to the fold, endeavoring instead to tutor the
local boys in the ancient customs while praying for a worthy successor.
the mythical legends from the sidelines when Koro declares that girls are
forbidden from entering the pantheon of leaders. Bolstered by the unconditional love of her
shrewd grandmother (Vicky Haughton as Nanny Flowers) and a sympathetic uncle,
Pai continues her indomitable quest for her grandfather’s acceptance while defying
the odds to achieve her improbable destiny.
bleak Maori cousin “Once Were Warriors”, “Whale Rider” addresses the evils of
cultural assimilation with poignant optimism. Even its most manipulative moments are
pregnant with emotion, merging fantasy and reality into a contemporary morality
The rhythms of traditional Maori are offset
by the extravagant beauty of the New
Zealand countryside -- bold and
breathtaking imagery. Castle-Hughes is a 12-year old wonder; vulnerable, direct,
and coolly in touch with her inner female.
Her unflagging spirit in the face of staggering personal hardship (and
infuriating chauvinism) resonates with eloquent inspiration.