Kon-Tiki: An intense ocean voyage

Menna Taher, Thursday 28 Nov 2013

Based on a true story, the film 'Kon-Tiki' depicts an explorer's voyage from South America to Polynesia on a primitive raft

Still from 'Kon-Tiki'

The much-anticipated annual Panorama of the European Film festival opened on Wednesday 27 November with the Norwegian/British production of Kon-Tiki, a film directed by Norwegians Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg.

According to the festival's Youssef El-Shazly, the film has been chosen for the opening of the panorama because "it is a big production and has caused a significant stir."

The film depicts the ocean voyage made by Norwegian anthropologist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl in 1947 from South America to Polynesia, in order to prove his theory that the Incas in pre-Columbian America were the original colonisers of Polynesia.

To try to prove his point, Heyerdahl makes the journey himself with five other crew members on the primitive raft the Kon-Tiki, its peculiar name derived from that of an Incan deity.

Kon-Tiki was nominated for the foreign language prize at the Oscars this year but lost to the Palme d’Or winner Amour.  However, the ocean voyage which the film is based on is not without its own Academy Awards wins. A documentary on the subject, also called Kon-Tiki, was produced in 1950, and won the best documentary award at the 1951 Oscars.

The film recounts a tale of the extreme lengths that curiosity can push human beings to go to. The post-World War II setting only accentuates humanity’s perpetual contradiction of moving both forward and backward, of utter self-destruction and the need for connectedness.

The journey is captured through a well-balanced mixture of the mundane and the intense, making it believable but never boring.  Some moments of intense eminent danger led to vocal reactions of shock from the audience watching the film.

Having watched the film, one can only marvel at the great challenges that nature has presented to mankind and the means that mankind has invented to surpass these challenges. But then again the film puts mankind into perspective by taking a beautiful shot of the earth, the moon and the stars, bringing to mind the ever-humbling words of the astronomer Carl Sagan:

“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

The film is highly philosophical, and one cannot help but compare it to Life of Pi, which was released in the same year and, similarly, recounts a story of survival in the deep ocean. Life of Pi, though visually stunning, plays too heavily on symbolism and pushes a philosophical meaning upon the audience, and in the end manages to come off as superficial.

Kon-Tiki, on the contrary, offers much more depth in a subtler way, giving the audience a lot of room for reflection. It also induces all sorts of emotions, yet can still be considered a “feel good movie” if we exclude the connotations that such a genre implies.

It is worth mentioning that the hypothesis that the explorer set out to prove has been shown to be false, and it is now agreed that the original inhabitants of Polynesia came from Asia, not America. However, some more recent research has shown  some native American DNA among Polynesian populations, which suggests that at some point, Americans may have made the kind of trip envisaged by Heyerdahl.

The story of Heyerdahl's ocean journey has gained prominence and a Kon-Tiki museum now exists in Oslo. Heyerdahl also published a book about the voyage, which has been translated into over 70 languages.


Monday 2 December, 10.30am at Galaxy Cinema, 67 Abdel-Aziz Al-Saud St., El Manial
Tuesday 3 December, 9.30pm at Plaza Cinema, Americana Plaza Mall, Sheikh Zayed
Thursday 5 December, 9.30pm at City Stars Cinema, Omar Ibn El-Khattab Street, Nasr City

Complete programme of the Panorama of the European Film.


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