Pai: In the old days, the land felt a great emptiness. It was waiting. Waiting to be filled up, waiting for someone to love it. Waiting for a leader.
According to the mythology of one Māori tribe, their ancestor Paikea arrived on the back of the whale, to lead the people—they called him the Whale Rider. The film Whale rider (based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera, and directed by Niki Caro) is set within a contemporary Māori community in Whangara, and tells the story of a girl called Paikea (Pai). Her mother and twin brother die at the moment of birth; this is where her grandfather, Koro (chief of the village) believes everything went wrong.
Pai and Koro share a deep connection, despite Koro’s disdain of her being born a girl—it’s clear she has the qualities and vitality of a leader, but according to sacred tradition, only men can inherit the position of a chief. What’s interesting is the parallel of this confrontation with a world in change; their small community, slipping further and further away from the old traditions. Pai’s father (Porourangi) sees no future in Whangara, as he left his daughter and hometown behind, and found a new life in Europe.
The relatively simplistic story is brought to life with strong performances; especially Keisha’s portrayal of Pai stands out, and it won her an Academy Award nomination. Her character captures the sensitivity and fragility of her age, as well as an uncanny awareness of who she is, and is meant to be. Also, what often may be overlooked is the importance of the soundtrack—the score for Whale rider, composed by Lisa Gerrard, has a lucid presence of it’s own, bringing with it an otherworldly tone and atmosphere.
Here is an embedded link (unfortunately not the best of quality, but nevertheless!) to the film: