I knew nothing of Thor Heyerdahl before seeing Kon-Tiki, the Oscar-nominated Norwegian film that recreates his most famous expedition. In 1947, Thor had developed a theory that the Polynesian islands were originally settled by Peruvians floating on primitive rafts 1500 years ago. At the time no one would listen to Thor, but we learn very early in the movie that Thor doesn’t give up so easily. His name is Thor after all. Heyerdahl decides that the best way to be heard is to prove his theory. To do that, he builds the Kon-Tiki, a raft made solely out of material used by ancient Peruvians. He assembles a small crew and sets out on the Pacific in this classic adventure tale.
The film is basically a hagiography. The actor playing Thor (Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen) looks like the Olympian version of Ryan Gosling with Tommy Carcetti’s smirk. Everything he does in the film is ballsy and downright impressive. He’s the ultimate stud. And you know what, that’s okay. If he did half of what the film says he did, then build a fucking statue or make reverential movies about the man. The guy was determined. Of course that type of personality creates some tension on the homefront, and there’s an okay subplot involving Thor’s wife. It helps to humanize and show the cost of his ambitions, but the film’s strengths are on the high seas.
Once Kon-Tiki sets sail, the movie takes off. It’s just six men on a tiny raft up against a vast and dangerous ocean, and it’s great. There is some real edge of your seat danger. From giant storms to giant whale sharks, the film has many heart-pounding sequences that rouse and surprise. It’s not especially layered or deep, but there’s nothing wrong with an adventure story that entertains as well as Kon-Tiki. It has an old-school-Hollywood charm that reminded me of Captains Courageous or Mutiny on the Bounty and films like that. There are a few potent stylistic touches, but from the score to the narrative, Kon-Tiki’s production has a classic sensibility.
Thor is always looking at the horizon, searching for the next adventure and the movie embraces this outlook. It might not ever dig at what’s behind those eyes, but adventure for adventure’s sake has its own rewards. This is an Icarus story where Icarus succeeded and became a legend. The only lesson learned is one might not be able to do everything (like swim) but nothing should stop you from trying. There’s only a fraction of the spirituality and special effects of Life of Pi, but it has some of the same thrills. If Jaws still has you scared of the water, then be warned, this film has sizable shark terror, but I had a lot of fun crawling out of my skin. It’s a very entertaining ride across the sea.