An Adventure of Epic Scale
The year is 1947 and World War II has just ended. The world is in the dawn of a new age and exploration is open once again for the men willing to brave new realms. Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdal is set on proving that Polynesia was settled by men from Peru and not by Europeans. He is laughed at by every scientific journal and National Geographic wants nothing to do with funding the expedition.
With his back against the wall, Thor sets out to unite a group of men to make the journey from Peru to Polynesia. This trip will not be easy and will take 100 days to cross the Pacific Ocean. And this entire journey will take place aboard a simple balsa wood raft. This is the remarkable true story of Thor Heyerdal and the Kon-Tiki voyage.
No One Said It Would Be Easy
The film begins with Thor (Pål Sverre Hagen) in Polynesia doing research for his dissertation. While there he discovers the truth that Polynesia may have not been settled by Europeans as schools teach. Rather, Thor believes that the islands where discovered by men from Peru who made the journey on a balsa wood raft nearly 1500 years ago. When Thor realizes that no scientific journal will publish his research he makes the only decision he has left. He will recreate the exact same journey that the Peruvians made. And he will do it using the exact same materials they had used.
Thor partners with a refrigerator salesman, Herman (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), who helps to design the raft for best results. Along with a ragtag group of friends, Thor begins construction on the raft that will float them across the ocean. Having been warned that water will cause the beams to break apart, Thor's mantra of "keep faith" becomes the unofficial motto of the expedition. Before they leave, Thor decides to have the entire trip documented on film.
The raft sets off and spirits are high among the men. However, as the raft continues to float the wrong direction, the men grow weary that they have made a mistake coming along. Quickly, thunderstorms become a challenge to overcome. Sending the raft rocking on the water, Thor is sent into the ocean. He is lucky to escape the situation with his life.
Later in the journey, they come across a whale, which spooks the men as it's nearly twice the size of the raft. Terrified that it will attack the raft, Herman throws the spear at the animal leading to further upheaval among the crew. Thor is quick to diffuse the situation, but tensions are growing as the raft continues to head towards more dangerous waters as opposed to the islands of Polynesia.
The real threat comes in the form of the raft becoming waterlogged. The logs also begin to rock off each other and Herman has had enough. He begs Thor to allow them to tie the logs together with modern wire. It appears Thor will give in, but continues his mantra of "keep faith." The crew thinks things cannot get any worse when the sharks arrive. The raft is now surrounded by sharks eager for one of them to fall in and become their next meal. The tensions run high as the sharks get more bold and closer to the raft.
Finally, when it appears all hope is lost, the raft picks up the right current and is headed to Polynesia. The raft still has one obstacle left and that is making it over a rocky reef leading into the islands. The raft barely makes it across and they reach their goal. The 100 days journey has concluded and Thor has proven the truth he has known all along.
A Film of Massive Scope
Kon-Tiki was Norway's submission to the 2012 Academy Awards and was a finalist for the Oscar. The film is a beautiful sight to behold. The massive scope of late 1940's New York and Peru are unbelievable. You are submerged in this world and everything is period correct to what you are viewing. Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg do a phenomenal job of developing this group of characters and giving Thor a charming presence. You want to see him succeed and you feel terrible when nearly everything is working against him.
The shots of the Kon-Tiki out to sea are ones to behold. This lonely raft on the massive scale of the ocean is awe-inspiring. You can't possibly imagine the fear these men must have been holding inside as they go out on nothing but balsa wood. The underwater shots of fish and sharks send chills down your spine. They seem to swim in out of no where and force you believe the impending threat is always there.
The acting delivers great performances. With a small ensemble, it's vital that each actor holds their weight for the film to stay afloat, so to speak. Hagen is great as Thor. He captures the screen and ignites every frame with a charisma that forces you to believe every word he says. He is reassuring and you feel pain for him as the raft floats the wrong way. This is one 4,000 nautical mile adventure you will not want to miss because of the great performances the actors deliver.
There is both an English language and Norwegian version of the film for people who want a better feel for the actor speaking the character's natural tongue.
The True Story and Legacy
The Kon-Tiki was a story that captivated the world in 1947. Thor Heyerdal became an inspiration for a new generation of explorers. He broke down barriers and showed there was still a great deal on in the world left to be explored. Thor's journey became an inspiration for the men who worked on the space program and sent a man to the moon. Thor Heyerdal continued to explore until his death.
The documentary based on the Kon-Tiki released in 1950 won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1951. It is the only feature film from Norway to win an Academy Award. One of the unique things about this film was watching the crew film this documentary during their voyage.
There is a Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway where the original Kon-Tiki raft is on display.