April 2013

Arts & Letters

‘Kon-Tiki’

By Michael Lucy
Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg (directors)

In 1937, Norway’s Thor Heyerdahl decided that the Polynesian peoples had not scattered across their Pacific isles from Asia, as was commonly thought, but rather from South America. In 1947 he set out to prove it by building a traditional Peruvian raft and re-creating the putative journey(s) of settlement. Later he re-created his own journey in a bestselling book and an Oscar-winning documentary. Now, directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg have re-recreated the journey in modern Technicolor CGI-assisted splendour.

So we are some way down the hall of mirrors by the time the curtain rises on Kon-Tiki – not that you’d know it from the film’s charmingly earnest demeanour. From the opening scene, which depicts Heyerdahl as a frolicsome boy falling into a frozen pond, it is clear that our hero is a good old-fashioned adventurer who will not be held back by trivial dangers.

Soon Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen) has grown up and, with his wife Liv (Agnes Kittelsen), is enjoying the tropical idyll of the Pacific flyspeck, Fatu Hiva. They skinny-dip in rainforest waterfalls, discuss ancient lore with wise, kindly natives, and jump to shaky conclusions about prehistoric migration.

A decade passes, and Liv is back in Lillehammer with the kids while Heyerdahl roams New York trying to drum up funding for an expedition to replicate the original journey of the Polynesian settlers. Before long he is in Peru, lashing balsa-wood logs into a raft with a half-dozen old friends and strangers, and then the real story begins as they push out into the Pacific.

It’s here, above endless sea and beneath ever-widening skies, that Kon-Tiki comes into its own as a spectacle. On land, things are a little stilted: Heyerdahl’s motivation is never clear, the Norwegian cast speak clunky English (two versions were filmed – one Norwegian, the other English) and scenes look like cast-offs from other films (The Blue Lagoon, say, and The Hudsucker Proxy). At sea none of it matters, and the film is set free.

Our band of increasingly bronzed and beardy Scandinavians spend their days manfully struggling against nature. They fix radios, see whales and other wonders, face shark attacks and hope that their raft will not sink. The Boy’s Own tone is only occasionally spoilt by forced “character” moments, such as one man’s revelation of guilt over killing Germans in World War Two, or Heyerdahl’s own confession that he cannot swim.

After 101 days of open ocean, the intrepid lads wash up in the Tuamotu islands, which Heyerdahl (and the film) takes as vindication. Never mind that these days, based on largely dull, unheroic analyses of linguistics, genetics and pottery remnants, it’s generally agreed that the Polynesians originated from the neighbourhood of New Guinea.

Michael Lucy

Michael Lucy is a writer based in Melbourne.

@MmichaelLlucy

Cover: April 2013

April 2013

From the front page

How you are when you leave

This must be how it feels to retire

Accused under privilege

NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong denounces a colleague

Image of Scott Morrison and the ScoMo Express

The ScoMo Express backfires

The PM’s farcical bus tour cements spin over substance as his brand

Illustration

APEC comes to PNG

Shipped-in Maseratis and single-use venues are a world away from real life in Port Moresby


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Bob Menzies and Gamal Nasser

Bob Katter in a Mareeba cafe. © Nic Walker / Fairfax Syndication

The Heart and Mind of Bob Katter

Adventures in Katterland

Counting the numbers: Graham Richardson in December 2000 with Inside Sport model of the year finalists © Jaime Fawcett / Newspix

The Rolling of NSW Labor

Party boys

Madeleine: The life of Madeleine St John, Helen Trinca, Text Publishing; $32.99

‘Madeleine: The life of Madeleine St John’

By Helen Trinca


More in Arts & Letters

Still from The Old Man and the Gun

‘The Old Man and the Gun’ and the outlaw Robert Redford

David Lowery’s new film pays too much tribute to the Sundance Kid

Image of Eddie Perfect

Eddie Perfect goes to Broadway

The Australian composer has two musicals – ‘Beetlejuice’ and ‘King Kong’ – opening in New York

Image of Julia Holter

A bigger, shinier cage: Julia Holter’s ‘Aviary’

A classically schooled composer seeks shelter from the cacophony of modern life

Detail of a painting of Barron Field

Barron Field and the myth of terra nullius

How a minor poet made a major historical error


More in Noted

Image of Nan Goldin, Nan and Brian in bed, NYC 1983.

‘American Masters’ at the National Gallery of Australia

The best of the US, drawn from Canberra’s own collection

‘Less’ by Andrew Sean Greer

The Pulitzer Prize–winning novel is an engaging story of love and literary misadventure

Hannah Gadsby: ‘Nanette’

Believe the hype about the Tasmanian comedian’s Netflix special

Cover of A Sand Archive

‘A Sand Archive’ by Gregory Day

Day grasps landscape as an intimate living thing


Read on

Image of Scott Morrison and the ScoMo Express

The ScoMo Express backfires

The PM’s farcical bus tour cements spin over substance as his brand

Image from ‘Suspiria’

Twisted sisters: Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’

Sentimentality ruins the magic of this otherwise unsettling and actively cruel film

Image from ‘The Other Side of the Wind’

Orson Welles’s ‘The Other Side of the Wind’ and Morgan Neville’s ‘They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead’

The auteur’s messy mockumentary and the documentary that seeks to explain it are imperfect but better together

Image of Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison’s foreign forays

The PM concluded a week of patchy diplomacy with his first major speech on foreign policy


×
×