Is 'Heart Of The Sea' Based On A True Story?

by Anna Klassen

After viewing the trailer for In the Heart of the Sea , I was left with two questions: Is this a true story? And, Is this a Moby-Dick ripoff? Surprisingly, the answer to both of these questions is yes. The film follows the true story of whaling ship Essex in 1820 New England as it is attacked by something unfathomable: A giant — and we're talking giant — whale. This seemingly impossible story is the true narrative that inspired Herman Melville's infamous Moby-Dick. But where Moby-Dick leaves off, In The Heart of the Sea continues.

In the winter of 1820, the ship is attacked by a natural force, and as Moby-Dick details, an instant hatred and deep-seeded sense of vengeance is felt by the crew's Captain (Hemsworth). This monstrous beast must die, he determines. But with their ship nearly torn in half, shouldn't keeping his crew alive be at the top of his to-do list? The aftermath unfolds as the crew does "the unthinkable" (cannibalism? Self-sacrifice?) to survive, challenging their social norms, their spiritual beliefs, and weighing the importance of human life. But with the Captain hellbent on on revenge, he's more concerned with enacting a plan to take down the monstrous beast.

According to Smithsonian magazine, the real life captain, George Pollard Jr., was just 29-years-old when the whale sunk his ship. Melville had a chance to speak with the Captain, then 60-years-old about his unthinkable tale, and revealed that after his run-in with the whale, and after his second ship was sunken due to landing on a coral reef, he was no longer allowed at sea. Deemed "unlucky," the captain lived out his remaining years as the village night watchman.

The story, and in turn the film, sounds remarkable. Ironically, the first trailer for the film was released in the midst of huge controversy surrounding Sea World and their treatment of marine animals. A movie about a blood-thirsty captain seeking to kill a whale seemed in poor taste, and the film's release date was bumped from March 2015 all the way to December. While the animal rights angle isn't necessarily the reason the film was bumped, there is another factor to look at. With a December release for this real-life drama, the film is more likely to gain nods for the 2015 award season. This isn't to say a March release would take their odds off the table — just look at Oscar-winning Boyhood, released nice and early in 2014 — but it's inevitably a more secure move.

So, hold onto your butts cinema-goers, this whaling adventure won't be available for viewing for quite some time. Perhaps it's time to crack open that copy of Moby-Dick you "read" in high school during the long interim.

Ron Howard's In the Heart of the Sea hits theatres December 11. Watch the trailer below:

Images: Imagine Entertainment