Story

In the Heart of the Sea is based on the true story that inspired the classic novel Moby Dick. In 1850 Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) travels to Nantucket Island to interview Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) about the sinking of a ship, the Essex, 30 years earlier. A teenager at the time of the sinking, Thomas is now an older man and is very reluctant to talk about the events surrounding the tragedy. His wife (Michelle Fairley) persuades him to do so as a way to end his torment.

The Essex was a whaling ship, which set sail with an inexperienced captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), and first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). Pollard steers the ship into a frightening storm to ‘toughen up’ the men, but this causes only havoc and destruction to the ship. Because he doesn’t want to go home empty handed, Pollard decides to sail 2000 nautical miles out from the coast to chase a huge pod of whales and a mythical giant white whale.

The giant whale attacks their ship, causing it to sink with the loss of many men. The survivors are adrift in lifeboats for 90 days. They reach a rocky island but realise that help isn’t coming, so they set out again on their small boats. The men have to survive storms, starvation and fear. The things they must do to survive make them question their own morality.

Themes

Whaling: survival; cannibalism

Violence

In the Heart of the Sea has some violence. For example:

  • Chase is angry at not being given the post of captain and kicks and punches at a framework.
  • Pollard blames Chase for the damage to the ship when it was Pollard’s decision to sail into the storm. When Chase refuses to accept the blame Pollard explodes, smashing a table with his fists.
  • Men spear the whales, and blood spurts everywhere.
  • The giant whale hits the ship hard and makes a hole in its side. The sailors are knocked off their feet and have blood on their faces. The ship is tossed about and the anchor races across the deck, causing more destruction. One man falls overboard and another is killed by falling beams. The ship catches on fire and explodes.
  • One of the crew points a gun at Chase.
  • The giant whale barrels into the lifeboats, destroying all three of them. The men are all washed overboard, and one man floats dead on the water.
  • Pollard makes a decision on his lifeboat that one of them must die. They draw straws and Pollard gets the short straw. He orders one of the crew, Henry Coffin (Frank Dillane), to shoot him. Coffin points the gun at Pollard but then shoots himself.

Content that may disturb children

Under 5
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, In the Heart of the Sea has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years. For example:

  • The huge waves and storms at sea are frightening and the atmospheric music adds to the scariness.
  • Men in small boats attack and spear whales. Thomas’s hands are bleeding, the men are covered in blood, and the sea turns red.
  • The giant whale has an eerie-looking eye and a clicking noise sounds whenever it appears.
  • The starving men all look very gaunt and have long hair and beards.

From 5-8
In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, there are some scenes in In the Heart of the Sea that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:

  • A whale is speared, but it swims on and drags a boat behind it. It swims quite a long way until it’s exhausted.
  • A dead whale is brought onto the ship, and there is blood all over the deck. Men chop up the carcass with a cleaver. Men have to climb inside the whale’s carcass to get the whale oil. Thomas is made to do this job when the hole is too small for the men. Thomas slides through the inside of the carcass, which makes him sick. This is all quite disturbing.
  • One of the crew is injured in the giant whale’s second attack. The man has swollen eyes and lips and is very thin and shaking. Chase has to abandon this man and a few others who are too sick to travel, on the island.

From 8-13
In addition to the violent and disturbing scenes mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:

  • Young Thomas (Tom Holland) is sick and vomiting on the rolling ship. Chase holds him over the side of the ship by his feet to make him throw up.
  • The scene where the whale hits the ship is quite graphic. Men all flee from the burning ship, and the spilling oil spreads the fire across the water. Chase escapes the burning ship and has to swim underwater for some distance to reach the safety of the lifeboat.
  • After the whale attacks the lifeboats, many of the men make it to shore. They’re all starving and eat whatever they can find, like raw eggs and fish.
  • Chase finds a cave on the island but what he finds in there makes him cry – the skeletons of previously stranded men.
  • One of the men on the lifeboat dies of starvation. Chase decides that they should eat him to stay alive. Young Thomas is distraught and cries at the thought. This is why he’s been unable to talk about the events ever since. The older Thomas tells how they removed the man’s organs, separated the limbs from the body and removed the flesh from the bones. They ate the heart first. Thomas is still tormented by this and cries while telling the story. He thought he’d committed an abomination.

Over 13
Younger children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above, including the killing and butchering of whales, the men drawing lots to see who should die, and the account of eating a dead man.

Sexual references

In the Heart of the Sea has some sexual references, including when a sailor carves a naked woman out of whalebone. He says that the ‘knobs’ look like his wife’s.

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

In the Heart of the Sea shows some use of substances, including characters drinking at home, on the ship and in the Captain’s cabin.

Nudity and sexual activity

None of concern

Product placement

None

Coarse language

In the Heart of the Sea has some coarse language.

Ideas to discuss with your children

In the Heart of the Sea is an adventure drama about surviving a shipwreck, and the lifelong effects of the experience. It’s most suited to older teenagers and adults but because it’s showing in the school holidays, it’s likely to appeal to younger teenagers and tweens too. 

You should be aware that the movie is very realistic and intense, particularly in the scene where the men draw lots to see who’ll die. The story about having to eat a dead man to stay alive is very disturbing and makes the movie unsuitable for tweens and younger teenagers. The movie also includes frightening and gruesome scenes of whaling.

The main messages from this movie are that moral values are called into question under extreme circumstances and that you shouldn’t judge people who’ve had to survive under those conditions.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include courage, determination and fearlessness.

This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues like the following:

  • Is it wrong to do what Chase and his crew did to stay alive?
  • The 19th century values about whaling are quite different from today’s values in most countries, but some countries still hunt and kill whales. Is this acceptable?