Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian archaeologist and adventurer, had a theory. He believed the islands of Polynesia were originally settled by the people of South America. This was in contrast to the accepted theory that Polynesia was settled by people from the West of the islands, the Asians. To prove his theory, in 1947, Heyerdahl set sail from Peru on an epic 101 day journey to Polynesia. That true-life journey is the subject of the film “Kon-Tiki”.
The first act of the movie introduces Heyerdahl and his five-man crew as they prepare for their voyage. Heyerdahl insisted on building a raft using only materials available 1500 years ago, such as balsa wood and rope. The possibility that the raft may break apart in the middle of the Pacific Ocean provides much of the dramatic tension in the story. There are also the inevitable conflicts that arise when six men are confined to a small space for such a long period. Heyerdahl and his crew must also battle the elements, as the raft is initially pushed in the wrong direction by the ocean currents.
Screenwriter Peter Skavlan does include some comic moments, however. In a scene where the raft is surrounded by sharks, one of the crew members starts tossing a powder into the water. He is asked why he is wasting the supply of tomato soup. “It’s not soup,” he replies, “It’s shark repellent.” He then tastes the powder and realizes it is soup. “I guess we’ve been eating the shark repellent,” he concludes.
The film is co-directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg. Although this is not a big-budget film by Hollywood standards, the movie looks expensive. Ronning and Sandberg shot in multiple locations, including Norway, Sweden, Malta, Thailand and Bulgaria. The visual effects include underwater shots of the ocean and its creatures that are stunningly realistic.
The camera is in constant motion in this film. Heyerdahl did not believe in the concept of borders, and the cinematography is a visual expression of this idea. At one point, the camera rises from a view of Heyerdahl’s raft all the way to the stars and then back down again.
Pal Sverre Hagen is the Norwegian actor who plays Heyerdahl. Hagen is an accomplished theater actor who has also won awards for his work in film. In his publicity interviews for the film, Hagen is calm and soft-spoken. He displays the same quiet confidence onscreen as Heyerdahl. His philosophy is expressed in his line “Believe everything will be okay and it will be.”
The DVD release contains two versions of “Kon-Tiki”. One version is entirely in English, the other version is mainly in Norwegian, with English subtitles. The film was released in US theatres in 2013.
I rented the DVD and viewed the Norwegian language version.