Chris Hemsworth Before and After
“Moby-Dick” The Rest of the Story
By Skip Sheffield
Before “Moby-Dick” there was a real giant white whale that menaced and wrecked an American whaling ship.
“In The Heart of the Sea” is the back story of Herman Melville’s epic whaling novel. Ron Howard directs the sprawling adventure, written by Charles Levitt (“Blood Diamond”) and based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s historical book “In the Heart of the Ocean: The tragedy of the Whaleship Essex.”
The story begins in 1850 with a young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) trying to convince a reluctant Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) to be interviewed as research for a novel based on the Essex disaster of 1820, thousands of miles off the coast of South America in the Pacific Ocean. Nickerson, who was just a cabin boy on the Essex, is the last living survivor. His wife (Michelle Fairley) gently but firmly convinces her husband to collect money Melville offered and tell his horrific tale.
In this telling, the mission was flawed from the beginning. Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) had been promised the post of Captain of the Essex, bound from Nantucket, Mass. Instead the post was given to the callow, inexperienced George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), whose father was an investor in the whaling company. Chase grudgingly accepted the second-in-command rank of First Mate.
Pollard had come from a long line of Nantucket whalers. Owen Chase was the son of a farmer and was looked down upon as a landlubber. In reality Chase was a far superior sailor than Pollard, whose bad choices led to the destruction of the Essex, marooning its survivors in three lifeboats more than 1,000 miles from any land.
Men will do desperate, terrible things to survive. No wonder Nickerson did not want to talk. He was ashamed.
The Melville novel is more about the madness of Captain Ahab than of his unfortunate crew. As a lover of the original novel and the classic 1956 John Houston movie that followed, I found “Heart of the Sea” fascinating. The computer-generated special effects are sometimes fakey, but the acting is true, led by stalwart Chris Hemsworth, who lost 33 pounds in four weeks to depict his gaunt survivor. As for Melville, who idolized "Scarlett Letter" author Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hawthorne himself complimented Melville for creating “the great American epic.”