Plans being discussed before the start of the Kon-Tiki Expedition at the Explorers Club in New York City. From left to right: Unknown, second in command Herman Watzinger, expedition leader Thor Heyerdahl, and legendary explorer Peter Freuchen, 1947.
Kon Tiki- Thor Heyerdahl sought to prove his theory that Polynesia was settled by Peruvians who traveled by Balsa wood raft by traveling there himself the same way. Just watched the movie- enjoyed it very much. Inspired me to read his book and others by him.
Kon-Tiki was the raft used by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl in his 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands. It was named after the Inca sun god, Viracocha, for whom “Kon-Tiki” was said to be an old name.
Heyerdahl believed that people from South America could have settled Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. Although most anthropologists as of 2010 had come to the conclusion they did not, but in 2011, new genetic evidence was uncovered by Erik Thorsby that Easter Island inhabitants do have some South American DNA, lending credence to at least some of Heyerdahl’s theses. His aim in mounting the Kon-Tiki expedition was to show, by using only the materials and technologies available to those people at the time, that there were no technical reasons to prevent them from having done so. Although the expedition carried some modern equipment, such as a radio, watches, charts, sextant, and metal knives, Heyerdahl argued they were incidental to the purpose of proving that the raft itself could make the journey.
Not that I’ve been to the museum. Or Norway, for that matter. I actually had never heard of Heyerdahl’s adventure until a few weeks ago when I saw the trailer to the recent Norwegian film made about it. Either we were never told about Kon Tiki at school or I slept through it. Considering that I’ve retained almost nothing from my schooling, I’d go for the latter.
Enjoyable enough and stunningly made. I always love it when I see a big lavish production made with foreign money and creative teams. And by foreign I mean non-American. The cast is Norwegian (and Swedish) and in the film, they speak Norwegian when they’re supposed to and English when they’re supposed to. Sounds like a random comment I’m making but I am still traumatised by the very first scene of Bertolucci’s Little Buddha in which you’re being transported to a remote Tibetan monastery – breathtaking landscape, sweeping music, striking set design – and then the Tibetan monks start speaking English to each other. Worse: in some sort of Chinese accent. That made me flaccid in an instant. I hate that. I hate it I hate it I hate it, and that was very common, I know I know. The 90s were the decade when I was devouring movies like there was no tomorrow and most big epic sweeping productions of that time had their money and their filmmakers very US-centric. [Bar the occasional Indochine and Raise the Red Lantern and what not]. My guess is that had Kon Tiki been made in the 90s, it would have been a properly Hollywoodised version with everyone speaking to each other in English with some sort of Nordic accent, and that small detail would have bothered me no end.
So back to Kon Tiki, the Norwegian version… Superb shots and decors (New York, Peru, Norway, the Pacific Ocean) with tons of very impressive and realistic close-encounters with mighty whales and kick-ass sharks. You’re right there on that raft with them. Then you’re taken to space for a brief second (very very cool shot) before going back down to earth.
The acting is very good across the board. Pål Sverre Hagen is excellent at playing charismatic and determined and clueless. With only one smile, he can convey gawkiness, ambition, recklessness and a thirst for adventure. His raft companions are good too, and towards they all end up sporting excellent Nordic beards (props? I wonder).
That said, the structure of the narrative is very very straightforward, boringly so, all the cliched boxes being ticked one by one. Early on in the film, for instance, as Heyerdahl is living on a Polynesian island with his girlfriend, he’s suddenly hit by a successive series of eye-rolling epiphanies that set him off on his journey to prove that South Americans made it to Polynesia more than 1500 years ago: a remark his fiancee makes as they are lovingly canoeing against current; cut to Heyerdahl fucking around in his hut then looking at a pineapple and wondering how the fuck it’s made it to Polynesia, cut to the couple talking to a native telling them that the island’s lore comes from the East –what? Not the West?!?; cut to that same native taking them to a statue of an Inca god buried deep in the Polynesian jungle. The rest is history (sigh). Each epiphany was enhanced with overacting, cinematic face light and I’m sure there was even a bell ringing each time.
As we came out of the cinema, my friend D. pointed out that although enjoyable and beautifully made, there was a crucial element missing from the film: a sense of intimacy among that band of brothers. He’s quite right, it felt like the film had no room for it, and that alone did prevent us from truly diving in and engaging with the characters and their story.
Apr 28, 1947 - Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl and five others set out in a balsa wood craft known as Kon Tiki to prove that Peruvian Indians could have settled in Polynesia. The trip began in Peru and took 101 days to complete the crossing of the Pacific Ocean.