Have faith in "Kon-tiki"'s voyage by film and by sea

“Kon-Tiki,” directed by Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg, played in September at the Toronto International Film Festival in Norwegian with English subtitles. The Weinstein Company announced this week that it acquired the rights from Hanway Films to distribute "Kon-Tiki" in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom and Italy.

The cast of "Kon-Tiki" at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival

A well-paced love story unfolds in “Kon-Tiki”: between Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen) and his adventure. As Thor longs to prove South Americans could’ve floated to Polynesia, and populated the islands before Asians, a strong will they/won’t they romantic tension pulls viewers through the film. Screenwriter Petter Skavlan built the script for “Kon-Tiki" as a labor of love, basing it on Heyerdahl’s real-life float across the Pacific Ocean on a balsawood raft.

Skavlan spent 11 years working on the script, beginning the process when Heyerdahl was still alive. When he learned Heyerdahl first developed his Peru-to-Polynesia theory while honeymooning in Polynesia with his wife, Liv (a weather-worn Agnes Kittelsen in the movie), Skavlan had a love triangle on his hands. Every obstacle Thor overcomes in his quest to reach Polynesia marks another step he takes away from Liv. This narrative frame, while clever, doesn’t always work, largely because Liv’s presence as the third prong of the triangle comes in and out of the film too intermittently.     

A good portion of “Kon-Tiki” comes across, probably accidentally, as a Norwegian “Jaws.” Besides hoping for his raft to attach itself to a westbound current, Thor’s main obstacle to Polynesia is sharks. He and his crew of five start dealing with the CGI-created sharks as soon as they survive their first big storm on the open ocean. Sharks knock against the raft and try to snack on a man overboard. To the credit of the visual effects team, the CGI only looks distractingly unreal when the crew’s parrot Larita flies off the raft and goes up against a shark.  

The obstacles at sea become more harrowing and the love story in "Kon-Tiki" swells as Thor shows his blind faith in Tiki, the god a Polynesian said first sailed his people to the islands from the east. Thor demands his crew have faith in Tiki, the same way one has faith in true love. He obsesses over the purity of his voyage, throwing modern wire overboard in favor of rope lashings that ancient Peruvians could have accessed to build a raft. This is a blind fit of passion like one having an affair.

The 119 minutes of “Kon-Tiki” do little to develop Thor’s crew, or even his relationship to Liv, which reappears abruptly in the final scene, but his mad heart for adventure connects with the audience and carries him across the ocean.

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Paige Cooperstein

Paige Cooperstein writes about film and pop culture. She contributes to The Post-Standard in Syracuse, NY as an intern in the features department, and 215 Magazine in Philadelphia, PA as an Arts & Culture blogger. Paige recently developed an aptitude for live tweeting big events like Syracuse Style's fashion show and the One World Concert featuring the Dalai Lama. Her other projects include producing audio previews for the Green Room Reviews theatre blog and hosting an arts themed podcast. She's always open to new projects. While not working, Paige frequently holes herself up to watch endless TV and movies. She's currently on a Buffy the Vampire Slayer kick eating up the behind-the-scenes interviews online. Spanish telenovelas keep her language skills sharp. If only she could find a similar outlet for ASL practice. Paige is also a proud Penn Stater and Newhouse SU grad student studying Arts Journalism.