I had the opportunity and great privilege to see “Kon-Tiki” at the State Theatre today. It screened for the Traverse City Film Festival founders, and prior to the movie, Michael Moore noted that the audience was probably familiar with the story because we’d no doubt read the book … “if you’re old…”
That got a laugh, and I have to admit, that book was on my shelf the entire time I was growing up, but I’ve never actually read it. Upon returning home, I went on an archaeological dig through my books and it’s now sitting on my desk. I intend to read it. Especially after seeing the movie.
“Kon-Tiki” is based on a true story that follows the incredible story of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, who crossed the Pacific ocean in a balsa wood raft in 1947, together with five men, to prove that South Americans – specifically, Peruvians – back in pre-Colombian times could have crossed the sea and settled on Polynesian islands.
It’s an amazing story that had me weeping with joy at times, clutching my bag in terror at other times, and marveling at the wonder of the human spirit.
It’s one of those films that’s a true collaborative effort – great directing by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, writing by Petter Skavlan and Allan Scott (who served as script consultant), original music by Johan Söderqvist, cinematographers Geir Hartly Andreassen, editors Per-Erik Eriksen and Martin Stoltz, and a knockout cast led by Pål Sverre Hagen, who played Thor Heyerdahl.
It won a slew of awards and was also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year by both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes.
“Kon-Tiki” is not only the name of this film, it’s also the name of the book Michael Moore mentioned, written by Heyerdahl, as well as the raft itself. The name originates from the Inca sun god, Viracocha, for whom “Kon-Tiki” was said to be an old name.
Despite the fact that anthropologists – both in the 1940s and even modern day – do not believe that people from South America could have settled Polynesia, Heyerdahl’s faith in that concept never wavered. His goal in mounting the Kon-Tiki expedition was to show, by using only the materials and technologies available to those people at the time, that there were no technical reasons to prevent them from having done so.
The expedition carried some modern equipment, such as a radio, watches, charts, sextant, and metal knives, but Heyerdahl argued they were incidental to the purpose of proving that the raft itself could make the journey. In one scene in the movie, he tosses some metal wire into the sea, after crew mate Herman Watzinger (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) warns that the raft will fall apart because it’s absorbing water.
The film shows how unpredictable the ocean is, as the crew deals with storms, whales, and sharks that nearly turn the journey tragic more than once. But it also shows what a little faith and positive thinking will do, despite the fact that this crew was somewhat ill-prepared for the journey. Heyerdahl didn’t even know how to swim.
If you have a chance to see “Kon-Tiki” either at the film festival or somewhere down the line, I highly recommend it. Runtime is 118 minutes; rated PG-13 for a disturbing violence sequence. Watch the trailer and check out when and where it’s screening here.
Here are a few photos from a press event at North Cove Marina in NYC’s Battery Park City in April. Harvey Weinstein and “Kon-Tiki” directors Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg, along with lead actor Pal Hagen, producer Jeremy Thomas, screenwriter Petter Skavlan, and Olav Heyerdahl, Thor Heyerdahl’s grandson who sailed on the 2006 Tangaroa expedition, were all at the event.