East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Companions on the Road: Thor Heyerdahl and Kon-Tiki (2)

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fAzNB5khHyD7Yx2ZnVlQcwyQPJzv4WH0HxcxYMEpTDmgAnd after the documentary, the dramatized movie.

There is a moment, ninety minutes in Ronning & Sanberg’s 2012 movie Kon-Tiki, in which the camera backs away from the raft, lost in the middle of the pacific, and climbs up through the clouds and the atmosphere, catches a glimpse of the sun beyond the curve of the planet, pans across the Milky Way, catches the moon hanging in space and then plunges back towards the ocean and the Kon-Tiki.
It’s a perfect synthesis, to me, of what the Kon-Tiki expedition meant to those men that lived it – and a lot of us, in the years that followed.

Based on Thor Heyerdahl’s eponymous book – and stealing a few shots from the 1951 documentary – Kon-Tiki is a story about the empty vastness of the ocean.
The raft and the men on board are just an accessory, to drag the viewer into this huge, fascinating place.
The crew of the Kon-Tiki is there to be us – to give us a shot at being like the first explorers.


The movie is exceptionally well-crafted – and if here and there seems to play fast and loose with some incidents, it certainly captures the same happy-go-lucky attitude that the original documentary gave us.
Heyerdahl and his mates were often out of their depth (ah!) when facing the technicalities of navigation and survival at sea.

But where the documentary easily dismisses problems, the movie gives us a more dramatic cross-section of the events.
Heyerdahl is not just the fearless captain, but also a man driven by an obsession – and his companions are men that signed up to sail with a man obsessed.
Not everything goes as planned – indeed, there are problems, mistakes, mishaps, incidents.
These punctuate dramatically a film that is made of vast open space, deep blue water, the alien life inhabiting the depths.
There is also more background on the earlier work of Heyerdahl, on the difficulties finding financing for an expedition that was seen as scientifically meaningless and basically a complicated way to commit suicide.

Kon_Tiki 9

It is a great adventure movie – to me, much more poignant and meaningful than a lot of recent films “based on a true story”.
This is the dramatization of the adventures my childhood heroes – and delivers as promised.

I explained in a previous post how much the expeditions of men like Thor Heyerdahl influenced my generation – we were kids as a new frontier of exploration had been opened, by the space race, and the explorers of old were both the ancestors of the astronauts that filled our imagination, and the living proof that there was so much to see and discover here where we stood.
We wanted to be astronauts, explorers, adventurers – we wanted to cross the oceans and explore space or the depths of the sea.
There are worst ways of growing up, I think.


Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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