Random Movie Review: Whale Rider

Now this is a good movie. And a bit different as well.


A Maori tribe in New Zealand, whose ancestor came to the country thousands of years ago on the back of a whale, passes down the memory and name of that ancestor to the first-born son (standard shit).

Movie starts with a woman giving birth. A girl is narrating over, she’s our main character Paikea. The woman dies giving birth to twins, a boy and girl. The boy dies. The living girl is the daughter of the chief’s oldest son. The father, played by the fantastic Cliff Curtis, is heartbroken by the death of his wife and son, gives his daughter the name of Paikea, the ancestor, which should only be given to boys.

The Grandfather is angry, the Father doesn’t care, the Grandmother threatens divorce while standing with Paikea.

Paikea grows up raised for the most part by her grandparents while her father goes to deliver his art exhibits all over the world, and her Grandfather’s heart is softened somewhat. But, he never forgets that she is female, and cannot be the leader, the prophet, he wants for the tribe.

Paikea feels the need to be a leader, but anytime she reaches out to learn her grandfather shoves her back. Paikea very much desires to make her Grandfather happy,  but she is aware that her birth was, if not a mistake, certainly a disappointment.

It’s heartbreaking watching he reach out. And also heartbreaking watching the Grandfather struggle with what he surely sees as the end of his people and culture.

At one point a half dozen or more whales are beached, Paikea blames herself because she sang to them. Grandfather blames her because he sees her birth as the cause behind the downfall.


I’m not very familiar with New Zealand’s film industry, so pretty much the only person I recognized was Cliff Curtis.

Who I’ve always had a bit of a crush on. He was great in Sunshine.

Grant Roa, who plays Paikea’s uncle, looked familiar to me, but I didn’t recognize any of his films.

Keisha Castle-Hughes, who plays Paikea, does a fantastic job.

Her in the movie, in 2002.
A more recent picture.

In 2005, she played the Queen of Naboo in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith… for what that matters.


She looks good in flashy makeup. Check another from Whale Rider:


I thought she was quite incredible. Child actors are hard to pick apart, and she was far from perfect, but I thought she played her part very well. And she has this fantastically smooth, even voice, and the Aussie accent (I think she was going for NZ, but she is Australian, and that’s what I heard in her most) was very charming. She never overacted, and she had the stillness I would expect of someone who had grown up walking on eggshells, not trusting in the security of her place and knowing that she isn’t 100% wanted.


The culture portion of this film was fantastically interesting. I liked listening to the speeches/songs, and watching the performances by Paikea, her Uncle, and the other tribe boys. As an American, I’m used to American native customs (and costumes), so this was interesting for me.


This is a fantastic movie. Find it. Watch it.

Important to note:

“He wanted to die. There wasn’t a reason to live anymore.” -Paikea

I BAWLED when she said this. Just the sound of her voice.


One thought on “Random Movie Review: Whale Rider

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