151212heartoftheseaposterThere is simply no way I can objectively review this movie.

I’ve read the novel “Moby Dick” three times (yes, the whole thing!). In my office, I have a bookshelf that is plastered floor to ceiling (I believe they call it “decoupaged”) with pages from three different copies of Herman Melville’s classic whaling novel

I am a serious, serious Moby Dick geek.

So when I saw the first previews of “In the Heart of the Sea,” the new film based on the true-life story that inspired “Moby Dick,” I was giddy with anticipation. And even now that I’ve seen the movie, my fingers tremble typing this, because “In the Heart of the Sea” did not disappoint.

No, the film is not perfect, and its worldview is a bit of a mixed bag, but I’m still giving “In the Heart of the Sea” my wholehearted recommendation.

The movie tells the tale of the sinking of the whaling ship Essex in 1820, a shocking and harrowing story of real-life horror and drama that bests just about anything Hollywood can dream up. And outside of a few, relatively minor details and dramatic embellishments, “In the Heart of the Sea” is an incredibly faithful retelling of the historical tale – right down to which boats sank when and which sailors drowned and which islands they encountered and all. It’s no wonder Melville saw grounds for telling a great story in the stoved Essex.

The underwater shots and scenes of the whales are breathtaking, the characters larger than life, the storyline and action riveting, the direction mostly solid – in short, this would be a very entertaining film, even if you didn’t know a thing about “Moby Dick.”

As someone who knows quite a bit about it … let’s just say my Christmas present came early this year.

My biggest criticism of the film is in a few anachronistic elements, including some of the foul language, which feels modern against the backdrop of the early 1800s, and a preacher praying for the continued “evolution of the human species,” which, while not a concept unheard of before Darwin, still felt oddly shoe-horned into the time setting.

As for worldview, the film asks some big questions, including its opening query, “How does a man come to know the unknowable?”

There’s also a pivotal conversation at the heart of the film when the first mate asks his captain “what offense did we give God” that the white whale would so wreak vengeance upon the crew and leave them destitute to die.

“We are supreme creatures made in God’s own image,” the captain insists, “designed to bend nature to our will.”

“We are nothing,” the first mate returns. “Specks of dust.”

Despite these high-sounding questions, however, the story of film is really about the last survivor of the shipwreck, his haunted conscience over events of which he has resolutely refused to speak, and what redemption he might find.

“His soul is in torment and is in need of confession,” the survivor’s wife tells a young Herman Melville.

“Do you think she would love me with the abominations I have done?” the old sailor asks the author as well.

The sailor’s redemption isn’t quite as powerful a tale as the Christian allegory found in “Moby Dick,” but it nonetheless finds its tipping point in perhaps the best line of the film: “No, the devil loves unspoken secrets, especially those that fester in a man’s soul.”

Well, it’s not secret: I love “Moby Dick,” and if I can find the time between now and Christmas, I’m going back to the theater to see “In the Heart of the Sea” again.

Content advisory:

  • “In the Heart of the Sea,” rated PG-13, contains roughly 20 obscenities and profanities.
  • The film has only minor sexuality, including shirtless guys, a couple of kisses between a married couple and a brief shot of men soliciting prostitutes in an alley. There is, however, a sailor who carves a drawing of a naked woman with prominent bare breasts into a piece of whale bone, and the drawing is seen a few times.
  • The film has several perilous moments at sea, including severe weather and the whale attack. There is a fair amount of bloodshed and some gore, particularly in the slaughter of a whale and the harvesting of its oil. There are also references to cannibalism and a sailor who shoots himself.
  • The film has several religious references, including those mentioned in the review above, as well as a preacher’s prayer upon the ship’s casting off, casual references to God and the devil, prayers over food and so forth, as one would expect for the time period, and most portray a positive influence of Christianity on the character’s lives. There are no overt occult elements.

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