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Movie Review

In the Heart of the Sea

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and peril, brief startling violence, and thematic material.

Reviewed by: David Simpson

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens
Action Adventure Adaptation 3D IMAX
2 hr. 1 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
December 11, 2015 (wide—3,050+ theaters)
DVD: March 8, 2016
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures

greed and covetousness

pride versus humility

blood lust for killing whales

moral problems with the old whaling industry

misuse of resources

whales in the Bible

Are real whales vindictive?

JONAH—How could Jonah survive three days in the belly of a “whale”? Answer


How would you respond to being stranded at sea?

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry—What does the Bible say? Answer

battle for survival due to disaster


cannibalism in an attempt to survive


SUICIDE—What does the Bible say? Answer

If a Christian commits suicide, will they go to Heaven? Answer

questioning deeply held beliefs


Featuring: Chris HemsworthOwen Chase
Cillian MurphyMatthew Joy
Ben WhishawHerman Melville
Brendan GleesonOld Thomas Nickerson
Tom Holland … Young Thomas Nickerson
Frank Dillane … Owen Coffin
Charlotte Riley … Peggy
Paul Anderson … Thomas Chappel
more »
Director: Ron Howard
Producer: Cott Productions
Enelmar Productions, A.I.E.
more »
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

“Based on the incredible true story that inspired Moby-Dick

“In the Heart of the Sea” is a recount of facts behind the Herman Melville American classic, Moby Dick. We are introduced to a young Herman Melville who is seeking the details of the whaling ship, The Essex and the story of the giant whale who doomed them. He meets the only living survivor of that voyage, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), a morose and guilt-ridden man who is reluctant to give up any details.

Despite this, we are thrust into the story of The Essex, it’s captain, Pollard (Benjamin Walker), and the protagonist, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). Chase had been promised the captaincy of a whaler, and he finds this vow reneged upon, and himself now a first mate to man who has never captained before. Facing each other’s enmity, and the expectations of providing 2000 barrels of whale oil, The Essex sets out. The story from that point on is where the fiction becomes fact regarding the giant whale.

The film is brought to you by director Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind,” “Apollo 13”). Firmly established, he gives you plenty of solid actors, a plethora of wistful scenery, and one enormous whale. The entire film reminded me of old paintings from that era, and you can get swept away by the sheer amount of detail in each scene. The script itself is very good, written by Charles Leavitt, who is responsible for the clever “K-Pax” and the gut-wrenching “Blood Diamond.”

Chris Hemsworth is a beautiful actor, full of poise and epic presence. He does strike me as being perhaps a little too imposing, and he does dominate each scene he’s in. His supporting cast provide ample layers, and performances by Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson are eye-catching.

Here we hit upon morality. There are so few movies that leave me digging as to what could possibly offend. There is a sprinkling of language; God’s name is taken in vain a handful of times; all very much a PG-13 level. There is no use of the F-word.

It’s a time period of violence. Life was hard. Men, women, and children all faced extreme difficulties to make ends meet, and, in a time where success and pride was to be found at sea, many took that route. Any kind of sea-faring was dangerous, but whaling was one of the most dangerous of all. Harpooning the world’s largest living mammal, from a wooden ship will always provide risk.

Tom Nickerson himself is a 14 year old child, orphaned and thrown into a life of rough men and fear. To survive, he must do the unthinkable, and that raises two of the hardest things to watch in the film. Nickerson has to enter the head of the whale carcass to retrieve extra oil. It’s a fairly gruesome scene, where the stench and claustrophobia really penetrates beyond the screen. Secondly, there are two discussions over cannibalism that are intense, foreboding, and awful to watch.

The violence can be heavy at times. Men are drowned and crushed by the whale, shipwrecked and starved, and reduced to drawing the short straw to see who volunteers to die so they can be eaten to sustain the lives of their shipmates. This is all very hard to watch, but this was real life in the period. The violence is not glorified, or sustained.

There is one scene where a topless woman is seen to be carved very roughly into a piece of whalebone. It is brief and hardly memorable.

The key messages to be taken from “In the Heart of the Sea” is that greed destroys. In the 1820s, oil was only known to be found in the carcasses of whales. It was therefore, a great pay day for the average sea-faring man. Greed was founded by the owners of whaling companies, who were desperate to keep their business going at all costs. Owen Chase and Captain Pollard are challenged to lie about their experiences in order to keep oil profits booming. Chase and Pollard themselves, both greedy for control, and for reputation, make decisions that are based around desire and greed. Many of these backfire, at great cost to themselves, and the men on the ship.

We are given strong messages from God, to not allow our hearts to be overcome with greed for what we do not have. It leads to discontentment, which can lead to anger and other emotions, that can lead to greater sin actions. Both men question their place on the Earth and have a couple dialogs that raise spiritual matters. Are we God’s greatest creation and meant to rule the Earth and have dominion over it? Or are we just specks that should know our place in the universe and live with more humility? Or do we have to find a balance of the two? I was hugely impressed to find these lines in a film about a giant whale, but when men’s lives and existences are tested, these questions are asked. It just gave a whole new level to the film. It’s also one of the main reasons why I found this film so unoffensive. They were not slamming God, but they were also not putting blind faith in Him, which is the stereotypical antagonist/protagonist spiritual warfare that goes on.

In conclusion, if you are a fan of the great American novels, it’s a solid telling of the genesis of a novel. If you enjoy the classic, all-action, period piece films, you will probably enjoy it. I think there are some great life lessons to be brought up after seeing it, or if you just want a good evening out, it’s there for you, as well.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Moderate—“G*d-d*mn” (7), “Oh G*d” (1), “Oh my G*d” (1), “damn” (5), “hell” (2), “a**” (1), SOB (2) / Sex/Nudity: Mild to Moderate—kisses, shirtless men, a sketch of a bare breasted woman, a possible prostitute talking to interested sailors

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—Superb! Too bad this was released so close to “Star Wars” and received less attention than it deserves. Intriguing true story on which the classic novel Moby Dick was based. Very subtle, but untypical, creative camera angles put you into the scene and close to the action in ways I’ve not seen before. Deserves an Academy award nomination for cinematography, in my opinion. Good acting and storytelling.

Some conflicts reminded me a bit of “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “Jaws.” Very well done. Although it does deal with extreme survival situations, relatively little objectionable material (language-ten GDs and two brief intense scenes, not for young children). Admirably, in various scenes, people are shown praying to God, giving thanks to God, and helping others to break the Devil’s stronghold on them. My son and I enjoyed it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Tori, age 40+ (USA)
Positive—My daughter (age 22) and I (age 55) went to see this movie last night. I love adventure films, and this one did not disappoint! I would not take a small child to this (younger than 12 years) as some of the scenes deal with adult issues (suicide, murder, etc.), but, then, so does the Bible I guess. There is VERY little cursing, no sex, no abuse of women, and the story is wonderfully told through the eyes/memory of an old man. I would definitely recommend this movie for adventure story fans!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Amy, age 55 (USA)
Positive—A very good true historical pic. Very realistic, which means violence, cursing and a gross scene involving a dead whale. There is an act of cannibalism referred to, but not shown, which really happened. Definitely for older audiences.

As for the spiritual themes, greed is destructive and the need for confession of sins—“the devil loves hidden secrets”—are themes of the movie. The characters display their Christian faith as was common in the 19th century. The acting is great, and I appreciate the historical authenticity of the movie. I definitely recommend it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Keith Chandler, age 37 (USA)
Positive—There is a suicide graphically shown, but, since this is a true story, it would have been wrong to leave it out. Definitely a movie to see, but for teens and above.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Wendi Davis, age 45 (USA)
Negative—Great story-line! Great cinematography! But the several uses of God’s name in vain was completely uncalled for, although many see that as a low priority. I can never recommend such a movie, no matter how great it is. Exodus 20:7 “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.” Original text is “misuse” or “mishandle” His name, meaning doing and saying things in God’s name.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Gilbert Banks Jr, age 44 (USA)
Comments from non-viewers
Negative—Why are people recommending a movie that has God’s name used in a profane manner? No matter how entertaining a movie is Christians must remember the prayer our Lord Jesus taught us, “Hallowed be Thy Name”! What is our measuring stick for how many times we can slap God in the face?
—Mary-Margaret, age 65 (USA)

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