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The Green Life: Movie Review Friday: Whale Rider

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February 25, 2011

Movie Review Friday: Whale Rider

Escape to the movies with one of our Movie Review Friday selections. Each week we review a film with an environmental theme that's currently in theaters or on DVD.

Available on DVD

Based on Witi Ihimaera's novel, Whale Rider follows 12-year-old Paikea (wonderfully acted by Keisha Castle-Hughes), the only living child in a long line of Maori chiefs. Following the death of her mother and twin brother during her birth, Pai struggles to find acceptance from her family and tribe. Her grandfather, Koro, is a proud and stubborn figure who refuses to believe that the new leader can be female.

Though family drama and feminism are pervasive themes, Whale Rider also has a strong environmental premise. Pai, named for the venerated figure who embodies the tribe’s ancient ties to whales, feels such a deep connection to her surroundings and their inhabitants that when she leaves for Germany to be with her father, something pulls her back and keeps her rooted to her home.

The film climaxes when dying whales mysteriously drift ashore, rallying Pai’s village to save them. The exceptional scene in which she finally cements her legacy as the tribe's next whale rider is touchingly symbolic of the bond between the Maoris and nature.

Thanks to its beautiful landscape shots of Whangnara, an authentic portrayal of the Maori lifestyle, and stellar performances (Castle-Hughes is the youngest to have been nominated for a best-actress Oscar), Whale Rider is a timeless masterpiece.

--Shirley Mak

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