Thor Heyerdahl made history by traveling nearly 5,000 miles
on a balsa-wood raft in 1947. His book about the adventure sold more than 50
million copies worldwide, and his subsequent 1951 documentary earned an Oscar.
Now two Norwegian filmmakers have created a compelling new drama about the
voyage of Kon-Tiki.
Heyerdahl, as played by Pål Hagen, is a single-minded
explorer and scientist who falls in love with Polynesia, and becomes convinced
that it was discovered by South Americans who sailed there on the currents,
following the sun. There’s just one problem: no one in the scientific community
believes him. Undaunted, he gathers a disparate group to join him and sets sail
from Peru, recreating the voyage of the sun god Tiki, on a raft built just like
the one used 1,500 years ago.
Not every crew member is experienced, and the radio refuses
to work; one conflict builds on another. The sailors put their faith in Heyerdahl’s
belief that no steering will be
necessary to reach their destination. They also pray that they won’t be eaten
by sharks along the way.
Hagen is completely believable as Heyerdahl, a man obsessed,
and directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg capture every emotion of this
perilous journey, as recounted in Petter Skavlan’s screenplay. The feeling of
isolation on the open sea recalls Life of
Pi, although this journey is literal, not metaphysical. As in Pi, however,
the visual effects are seamless and, in one key scene, awe-inspiring—all the
more impressive for having been executed on a modest budget. (The early scenes
set in New York City are less convincing, but they are merely a preamble to the
adventure at sea.) What’s more, the directors were forced to shoot every scene
with dialogue twice, once in Norwegian, once in English.
But all that really matters is the finished product. Kon-Tiki is a robust adventure yarn and
a highly entertaining film.
Incidentally, Thor Heyerdahl’s grandson built a replica raft
and made the journey from Peru to Polynesia in 2006: that’s the vessel the
filmmakers used for their movie. It also carried them to their world premiere
at the new waterside Opera House in Oslo…and the recent debut in Manhattan.