Movie Review: Whale Rider (2002)

Title: Whale Rider
Release Date: 11 September 2002
Director: Niki Caro
Production Company: South Pacific Pictures | ApolloMedia | Pandora Film | New Zealand Film Production Fund | New Zealand Film Commission | NZ On Air | Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen

Paikea “Pai” Apirana (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is a twelve-year-old Māori girl in modern New Zealand, a descendant of the legendary ancestor Paikea, who in Māori mythology was the first to arrive in New Zealand on the back of a whale.  Pai’s mother and twin brother died in childbirth, and her grandfather Koro (Rawiri Paratene) holds her responsible for breaking the patrilineal line. Since Koro believes that the next chief should be male, he begins training a group of young boy.  Pai observes from afar, learning the traditions with the tacit approval of her Nanny (Vicky Haughton) and Uncle Rawiri (Grant Roa).

The heart of this movie is resolving the conflict between Pai and Paikea, and it is terrifically acted, especially the nuanced performance of Castle-Hughes.  It also a movie about keeping traditions alive in modern times.  But those traditions can be changed such as allowing women and girls leadership roles.  Oh, and the scenes with the whales in this movie are magnificent!

Rating: ****1/2