I saw Whale Rider tonight with Stacy. I can't remember the last time I was at a movie and the audience clapped when it was over. Whale Rider won the Audience Favorite award at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals as well as a number of other honors. This movie captivated me the same way that the book Life of Pi did. Explaining the facts of the plot and the descriptions of the characters in either case does them no justice. Life of Pi wasn't just about a boy on a boat with a tiger, and similarly Whale Rider isn't just about a 12 year old girl (coincidentally named Pai), her grandfather and her Maori tribe in coastal New Zealand.
I may sound like I'm making this up, but I found myself wanting to clap for Pai when she gave her speech at a school recital. I forgot myself and thought I was in the audience. Keisha Castle-Hughes plays Pai, the surviving girl of a twin birth that claimed the lives of her mother and twin brother. Rawiri Paratene plays her prickly, traditionalist grandfather, Koro, who shuns Pai because she is not the grandson he hoped would take his spot as tribe leader. Koro wishes that her brother had survived and Pai be the one who died. Pai has such genuine love and respect for Koro that you want to reach out and hug her when Koro treats her like a plague. I cheered for Pai at every turn. She never backed down, always knowing what the truest course was for her to take.
Whale Rider affirms family, community and the strength of people coming together. These aren't typical themes for a summer movie. I enjoyed watching every minute of the wonder and beauty of New Zealand and the story that takes place there.
(Meta-blog non post: This is my 100th entry at this here weblog thingy. Wheeeee! Producing 100 episodes of Saved by the Bell was significantly more difficult, but so is watching it.)