'In the Heart of the Sea': Let the Whale Live!

Late last year I went to the movies, and I saw a trailer for an upcoming feature starring Tom Hardy and Tony Soprano, written by Dennis Lehane, the guy who wrote Mystic River (2003) and Gone Baby Gone (2007) and Shutter Island (2010). The trailer was for a movie called The Drop. The star of the trailer was a little bluenose pit bull puppy.

The pup cuddles with Tom Hardy as portentous music accompanies drastic smash cuts. This trailer promises that bad things will certainly happen, and that’s fine by me.

“But if the dog dies,” I said to myself, “I will not see this movie.”

Later that night, I went digital, asking search engines and social media: “Do they kill the dog in The Drop?” No one could tell me; so I went and found out about The Drop for myself. At the risk of being a spoiler, the movie satisfied my movie-going needs.

I am facing the same quandary and hoping for the same resolution from Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea, which opens December 10. This is a movie about men at sea hunting whales. One big whale turns the tables, emerging as a massive predator, tracking and attacking a scrappy group of outmanned humans.

Killing in movies doesn’t bother me; in fact, like so many movie consumers, I tend to like it. 

The trailer, in my mind, raises one crucial question: Does the whale die? If yes, Boy and the World or Snervous Tyler Oakley or anything else premiering December 10 starts looking viable.

I’ve studied the In the Heart of the Sea trailer for indications of whether the whale lives or dies. I’ve been asking around on the Google. I have not gone so far as to read the nonfiction source book by Nathaniel Philbrick, but what certainty would that bring? Even if Philbrick’s whale lives happily on, Hollywood changes books all the time to make movies.

All I want to know is: Do the scrappy wee fellows kill the big, bad whale? I can’t find a straight answer. The closing narration in the trailer (the tragedy of the "Essex" is the story of men—and a demon) literally demonizes an innocent animal. Demonization, we know from that political science we took in college, is a psychological manipulation employed to depict a target population as being in need of killing.

Killing in movies doesn’t bother me; in fact, like so many movie consumers, I tend to like it. Several thugs expire with sudden brutality in The Drop, and I experienced a vicarious joy at each demise. Also, I’m not one of these people who believe that every animal life is more sacred than any human existence.

But the whale has a better argument for being out there in the ocean than the wee hero men do. The watery depths are the whale’s natural environment. Contrary to the demonizing narrative, the whale is not the devil out on those tossing seas. The whale is the victim, in effect, of a home invasion by Ron Howard’s handsome and rugged heroes.

The whale is not the mammal that hunted down and tempted a boatload of godly men to drift astray. This grand, blubbery beast is not doing the devil’s work. The whale no more deserves a gory impalement than The Drop’s puppy would have.

Tell me that the leviathan’s blowhole is still spouting as the credits roll, and I will gleefully soak up the apprehensive excitement and triumph against all odds that In the Heart of the Sea surely delivers, with ham on top.

If that whale goes belly up? Count me out.