Whale Rider This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

May 5, 2012
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Whale Rider, based on a book by Witi Ihimaera and directed by Niki Caro is an absolutely fantastic film. The film tells the story of a twelve-year-old girl named Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes). The story of her struggle to gain her grandfather's acceptance and her destiny to save her tribe is depicted with elegance and the acting is truly magnificent. Whale Rider is a true coming of age story with a twist.

Paikea, or Pai as she is called, had a twin brother who died at birth, along with Pai’s mother. Pai’s father leaves the island both to grieve and to escape the pressure from his father to live the traditional life. He leaves Paikea with her grandparents, whom she calls Koro and Nanny. They provide a good childhood for her, and Pai and Koro form a close bond, but he does not fully accept her because she is a girl. At times, Pai blames herself for this strife within her family and her tribe. The tribe's tradition establishes the firstborn male as chief, believing them to be the direct descendants of their ancestor Paikea, who, according to tradition, rode a whale from the old land, Hawaiki. The death of her brother was the rupture of the line of Paikea's direct male descendants, potentially leaving Pai as the next chief.

Koro (Rawiri Paratene) is the current chief and Pai's grandfather. Koro and Pai develop a close relationship, but because of his traditional values, he is often resentful toward her. Paikea knows that it is her destiny to become the leader of her people. She is linked to her ancestor Paikea through the spirit of her tribe as well through their shared name. Pai, supported by her grandmother (Vicky Haughton) and her uncle Rawiri (Grant Roa) attempts to win her grandfather's affection and respect, and to carry out the true spirit of the whale rider.

This film is inspiring, captivating, and uplifting. It provides true insight into the lives of the tribal people. Keisha Castle-Hughes plays Pai with a sincere boldness and grace and her unforgettable performance truly makes the film. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Leading Actress in 2004, the youngest to ever be nominated in that category. Her character is meant to be relatable and brave, which Castle-Hughes portrays perfectly. Sincere emotion radiates from all the actors in this film, but especially from Castle-Hughes and Paratene.


Whale Rider was filmed in New Zealand in the village of Whangara and in Auckland. The setting enhances the film’s sincerity and uniqueness. The movie was shot on the land and around the people from which the legend originates. It uses the breathtaking scenery not only as a setting, but also as a means of expressing emotion. The soundtrack also serves as a valuable means of expression. The eerie background music sounds like a blend of the whale song and Maori chant, and it evokes different emotions throughout the film. It provides the perfect backdrop for Pai’s journey.

The acting is very sincere and the viewer can almost feel the emotions of the characters. The gorgeous setting enriches the film and the unique background music establishes a sense of unity and connectivity throughout the film. It depicts the tribal culture with sincerity and courage. This movie can be appreciated and enjoyed by almost anyone. The plot is not overly complicated and it progresses at a good pace. The unique view of the Maori culture is very interesting, and the characters are easy to relate to, making Whale Rider an all together inspiring and uplifting film.





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