In the Heart of the Sea – An Epic Tale that Lacks Some Heart

by Yo Snyder

“Based on a true story” shows up in movies and TV so often these days that it’s no longer the hook for watching a particular story that it used to be. Seems like anything not involving superheroes is “based on a true story” these days. However, that’s not a recent story-telling convention. In fact, a couple hundred years ago a young novelist by the name of Herman Melville used a similar approach in penning is classic, Moby Dick. What’s that? You didn’t know that Moby Dick was also “based on a true story”? Well it was, and as is sometimes the case with such tales, the truth may actually be more fascinating than the fiction. In the Heart of the Sea doesn’t quite capture that fact as well as it could, but it is a fascinating epic in its own right as it reveals the story behind the story of Moby Dick.

The major problem with In the Heart of the Sea is that it lacks a certain amount of heart (ironic considering the title). While the story itself is plenty compelling, what it really needs is some strong characters to latch onto in order to experience this harrowing through their eyes. However, most of the characters we meet are only briefly drawn for us, and later in the film it becomes very hard to tell one apart from the other, which lessens the impact of some very key moments. The problem is so often we’re being “told” things rather than “shown” them. We’re told these characters don’t like each other, or this character has a tragic background, and while one or two scenes might reinforce what we’re told, we’re never really shown these things, which leaves the characters feeling rather shallow.

The tale itself, however, is quite compelling. I heard many wondering just how much of it is true, and I think one of the characters in the film itself answers that question best, “Too much is true.” I wonder, however, if the impact of some of the key moments in the film might be greater for those who had no idea Moby Dick was based on these true events. Much of the history of the Essex was known to me going into the film, so I think some of the tragic impact was lessened for me knowing already where events would lead. Regardless, it’s a fascinating story, and one that I’m surprised hasn’t been adapted to the big screen more often.

Like its characters, there are many ideas and themes that this movie just doesn’t dive deeply enough into. One of the more intriguing ones was what exactly is the place of human race in this world. One character believes that humanity is to be kings and queens of this world; destined to rule and subjugate the world to its will. However another suggests that in the grand scheme of things, humanity is nothing more than dust. We are mere specks in the cosmos, so what significance can we possibly have. I find it interesting that a film asking such questions should be released at Christmastime, for Christmas provides the answer to those very questions. Interesting enough, both viewpoints are not far off. The truth is, we are mere specks in the Cosmos, but we’re also very special specks. The Bible asks God, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4) Jesus Christ, born to a virgin, answers that question. We are very precious to God. So precious, in fact, that he sent is Son to world, born in a manager, destined to be our Savior. And it is through Jesus that we also answer the first viewpoint; we are indeed royalty. We are sons and daughters of the Most High God; we are royalty. However, we are royalty because Jesus made a way for us to be adopted into God’s family. It was the birth of that baby that we celebrate at Christmas who made it possible for us to be more than we are, and to realize that in the grand scheme of the Cosmos, we may be but specs, but because of God’s great love, we are very significant specs.

With In the Heart of the Sea, Ron Howard delivers an engaging tale that just lacks some depth, and heart, when it comes to characters and plot developments. This one of those films that could have been truly great, and instead stumbles into being merely pretty good. However, it’s a beautiful film to behold, and the story is so intriguing it’s hard to mess it up too badly. Not as heartfelt, impactful, or tragic as it could have been, yet for anyone curious about one of the first, and probably one of the greatest, “based on a true story” tales which was Moby Dick, In the Heart of the Sea is a film that’s definitely worth watching.

Score 4 of 7
In the Heart of the Sea has some pretty grisly moments, but they aren’t unnecessarily graphic either. Probably best to keep the smaller tots away from it, but a worthwhile journey for everyone else.