Chris Hemsworth is soaked, standing on a ship, trying to steer through a storm, when he sees what appears to be a giant whale in the ocean waves. If the images shown in the trailer for In the Heart of the Sea makes you think of anything, it's probably the hours you spent being forced to read Moby Dick, the epic whaling novel by Herman Melville published in 1851. And yet, In the Heart of the Sea doesn't reference Moby Dick anywhere in the trailer — not even to give it a short "inspired by" nod. Confused? You're not alone. So, what's really going on here? Is In the Heart of the Sea just Moby Dick ? Is it a relling, or a rip-off? Well, it turns out the answer is pretty complicated, and, if possible, even more confusing.
The plot of In the Heart of the Sea is very reminiscent of Moby Dick. Set in the early 1800s, the film follows Owen Chase (Hemsworth) the first mate of the whaling ship Essex, which is attacked by a seemingly vengeful and enormous whale. Survivors find themselves lost at sea and, according to the official synopsis, are "forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive." After the ordeal, Owen becomes hell bent on destroying the whale that attacked them. In short: a captain of a whaling ship is single-minded in his desire to kill a whale of mythical proportions. You don't even need to have read Moby Dick to know that that same basic plot description also applies to the book.
That said, In the Heart of the Sea is not officially inspired by or adapted from Melville's Moby Dick. It is, however, adapted from another book, Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, originally published in 2000, which recounts the true story of the Essex. Hemsworth's character, Owen Chase, was a real man who was only 23 in 1820, when the whale attacked and destroyed the Essex. Incidentally, it was this true story that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick. In other words, both In the Heart of the Sea and Moby Dick are fictionalized versions of the same real event. Sounds simple, right? Perfect, now let's make it confusing again.
Melville is actually a character in the film. From the trailer, it looks like Melville isn't a part of the main story. Instead, it seems that the author and his novel are he meets an old Essex crew member, Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), years later and convinces him to recount the horrible adventures of the Essex. In real life, Melville had written Moby Dick before ever meeting a real life survivor of the Essex, Captain George Pollard Jr. in 1852. But, still, filmmakers insist that In the Heart of the Sea is grounded in reality, not in Melville's novel.
The twisted chronology of the whaling drama is kind of like a weird case of what came first, the In the Heart of the Sea chicken or the Moby Dick egg? Audiences may never truly understand the answer.
Images: Warner Bros.