Tammy and I have seen Whale Rider twice now -- we find it to be a heartwarming tale with really teriffic acting. It's the story of a small Maori village that is in decline -- the old ways are being neglected, all the young men are lazy, drunk, or wastrels, the children are eager to leave and go anywhere but the village. The village chief is working hard to keep things together, but he is yearning and longing for a prophet.
He expects this prophet to be his grandson -- but this child dies in childbirth, taking his mother with him. He leaves behind a twin sister,Pikea, whom we discover is the prophet that the chief longs for. But the chief, stuck in the ancient traditions, will hear nothing of it, and stubbonrnly tries to have his own way.
But eventually, his granddaughter, through her mystical knowledge of nature supernatural insight, saves the village. She proves herself to be the hero.
Christians may object to the ancestor worship spirituality -- the "divine feminine" qualitiy that infuses much of today's literature. However, this is not an evangelistic piece -- it is a sublte story. And as such, it reveals themes that portray powerful gospel truths.
1) The longing for a redeemer. The culture is broken -- society is fallen apart -- and everyone longs for healing. Pikea's father explains the role of the prophet to her “Somebody whos got to lead our people out of darkness who’ll everything right again. The only problem is you cant decide who those people are just because you want them to be, eh?” This is a longing that is deep within the human heart because it is deep within our own condition. Even though the heroine fulfills the role for a time (and a really cool scene it is to see the Maori people living out their traditions), we know that it is only for a time. Decay will again set in -- there is a deeper need for healing -- healing on the heart level for each of us, and an eventual healing of the cosmos. That is the healing that comes from Christ's work alone.
2) The pulling together of the community. One of the reasons this is such a lovely postmodern work is that it emphasizes the role of togetherness. The strong leader model that the chief works under is bringing nothing but failure and frustration. Pikea, in a speech that she gives in a particularly heartbreaking scene, explains her philosophy of leadership: “But we could learn and if the knowledge is given to everyone then we could have lots of leaders. And soon everyone will be strong, not just the ones who have been chosen. Because sometimes even if you’re the leader and you need to be strong, you can get tired. Like our ancestor Pikea when he was lost at sea and he couldn’t find the land and he probably wanted to die but he knew that whales was there for him, so he called out to them to lift him up and give him strength. This is his chant .. I dedicate it to my grandfather.” This idea finds its parallel in I cor 12 -- the whole image of the body of Christ, each with different roles, but all bound together. There are lovely images of the tribe living this ideal out toward the end of the film
It's a flim well worth watching -- for a pretty comprehensive review of the Christian critic's responses, see Christianity Today's review page.
And if this really interests you, you might help me explore the Maori Theology Webpage -- a Dominican Missionary who was working to translate the concepts of Christianity into a Maori worldview. I'm afraid that it might be pretty syncretistic, but I haven't yet had the chance to go and evaluate it -- some of you theologians/missions experts go and evaluate and let me know what you think.
Soli Deo Gloria