Not just the words through the movie, the narration by Kahu, but the music that moves with the shadows and light in the ocean, has an overwhelming emotion with which the viewer may identify. When the narration begins, it is Kahu who says, “There was no gladness when I was born”. These words are witnesses of events to happen. This is no story which begins with joy, but a tale where great hardship must happen first so that when the joy does come, the audience knows what a battle it was to get it, and how much more rewarding it is after such tribulation.
Kahu’s story, her birth, marks the death of her mother and twin brother. Her twin was supposed to be the next leader of the Maori tribe. Her name is also an affront, her great grandfather believes, to the faith and tradition of the tribe. It is a blasphemy to their ancestor the great Whale Rider, who was male. The altercations which arise between Kahu’s father and great grandfather isn’t mainly between one’s acceptance of a belief and the other’s denial of it, but also of Kahu’s mother’s wish to name the child after that great ancestor, and so begin Kahu on her journey.
The powerful moments in this movie are the singing in the Maori tongue. When Kahu sings to the whales, when Koro sings, and especially the shattering feeling of love that is conveyed through their singing during a funeral. There is a specific bond in the words. They carry their dead with their songs, which seem to be saying we will find you soon, we will join you in our ancestral home. The entire film is teeming with the concepts and ideologies of ancestors. When Koro is fixing an engine outside one day, Kahu comes up to him asking questions about her ancestors, for a school project she’s working on.
He tells her that the link of their ancestors is as strong as this piece of rope, just as the whales are strong and powerful. With that strength of the entire lineage of ancestor’s the rope can never be broken. It is significant then that the rope breaks and while Koro is trying to find a new one, Kahu fixes it and fixes the engine. This is the predecessor of events to come. Kahu’s link in the chain is the link, which is the strongest, the one that will again unite the ancestors and whales to the needs of the current culture.
The difference in this being a New Zealand film is the use of artistic integration, in the landscape incorporation, the history of the people (including the myths of the culture, which gives the film added substance and a certain veracity which is hard to come across in the quick action movies and an unquestionable audience as is the case with most American films) and the narration of the film. Some of this may be attributed to the book, but the inclusion of the books story is very prominent in the events of the movie.
Though it is difficult to decide the movie, in its intimate revelation of the characters verses the somewhat juvenile writing of the novel, it is the movie that holds the viewer closer to the plot. Though uncle Rawiri narrates the book, the movie is narrated by Kahu, which makes the story more believable coming from first person point of view and considering that the story is mainly about her and not about Rawiri traveling to Australia and Papua New Guinea; Kahu narrating the story brings it a certain truth that the novel lacks.
All in all, the movie is very compelling both in narration, dialogue and the plot. It is the singing, the landscape, and the inclusion of the Maori language, which makes this film a New Zealand work of art. The history of the people is given fair study and sincerity. The union of the people at the end of the movie becomes part myth and part reality in the components of beached whales, and the resurrection of Paikea in a young girl, riding the bull whale out to sea to save her culture.
The surprising factor in the movie is the maturity of Kahu, her diligent advances in the Maori culture and the way in which she tells the story is beyond her keen, but it works, her sad voice over such a beautiful landscape is compelling and honest. Kahu makes the film about a legendery myth, a reality waiting to happen.
Whale Rider. Apollo Media. New Zealand. 2002. Maori Culture. Virtual New Zealand. Online. Accessed: May 2, 2007. http://www. virtualaustralia. com/newzealand/culture/maori/