Australian Council on Children and the Media

In the Heart of the Sea

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Not suitable under 13; not recommended 13-15 (Violence; Very disturbing scenes and themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for In the Heart of the Sea
  • a review of In the Heart of the Sea completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 8 December 2015.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 13 Not suitable due to violence and very disturbing scenes and themes
Children 13 to 15 Not recommended due to disturbing scenes and themes
Children 15 and over OK for this age group but issues to discuss with teens

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: In the Heart of the Sea
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Survival themes
Length 122 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

In the Heart of the Sea is based on the true story that inspired the writing of the classic novel Moby Dick. In 1850 Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) travels to Nantucket Island to interview Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) about the sinking of a ship, the Essex, thirty years earlier. Thomas was a teenage member of the crew when the ship sank  and now, as an older man,  is very reluctant to talk about the events surrounding the tragedy. His wife (Michelle Fairley) persuades him to do so as a way to end his torment.

The Essex was a whaling ship, which set sail with an inexperienced Captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth).  Pollard firstly steers the ship into a frightening storm to ‘toughen up’ the men but only causes havoc and destruction to the ship. In order not to go home empty handed, the Captain decides to sail 2000 nautical miles out from the coast to pursue a huge pod of whales and a mythical giant, white whale.

The giant whale attacks their ship causing it to sink with the loss of many men. The survivors are adrift in lifeboats for 90 days. At one point they reach a rocky island but realising that help won’t be coming, they set out again on their small boats. The men have to survive storms, starvation, and fear, and what they do to survive causes them to question their own moral beliefs and fundamental ethics.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Whaling: survival; cannibalism

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is  violence in this movie including:

  • Chase is angry at not being given the post of Captain and kicks and punches at framework.
  • Pollard blames Chase for the damage to the ship when it was his decision to sail into the storm. When Chase refuses to accept the blame, Pollard explodes, smashing the table with his fists.
  • Men are shown spearing whales and blood spurts everywhere.
  • The giant whale hits the ship hard causing a hole in the side of the ship. The crew are knocked off their feet and are seen with blood on their faces. The ship is tossed about and the anchor races across the deck causing more destruction. One man falls overboard and another is killed by falling beams. The ship catches on fire and explodes.
  • One of the crew points a gun at Chase.
  • The giant whale barrels into the lifeboats destroying all three of them. The men are all washed overboard and one man is seen floating dead on the water.
  • Pollard makes a decision on his lifeboat that one of them must die. They draw straws and Pollard gets the short straw. He orders one of the crew, Henry Coffin (Frank Dillane) to shoot him. Coffin points the gun at Pollard but then shoots himself.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, much of this movie is likely to scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • The huge waves and storms at sea are frightening and the atmospheric music adds to the scariness.
  • The men are shown in small boats attacking and spearing whales. Men are covered in blood, Thomas’s hands are bleeding, and the sea turns red.
  • The giant whale has an eerie looking eye and is always accompanied by a clicking noise.
  • The starving men all look very gaunt and with long hair and beards.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Once a whale is speared it swims on, dragging the boat behind it (attached by a rope) for some distance until it’s exhausted.
  • The dead whale is brought onto the ship and there is blood all over the deck. The carcass is chopped up with a cleaver. Men have to physically go inside the whale’s carcass to retrieve the oil. Thomas is made to do this job when the hole is too small for the men. Thomas is seen sliding through the inside of the carcass, which makes him sick. This is all quite disturbing.
  • One of the crew is injured after the second attack by the whale and is shown with swollen eyes and lips, very thin and shaking. Chase has to abandon this man, and a few others who are too sick to travel, on the island.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above mentioned  scenes, there are  scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Young Thomas (Tom Holland) is sick and vomiting on the rolling ship. Chase holds him over the side of the ship by his feet to make him throw up.
  • The scene where the whale hits the ship is quite graphic. Men are all fleeing from the burning ship and the spilling oil spreads the fire across the water. Chase escapes the burning ship and has to swim underwater for some distance to reach the safety of the lifeboat.
  • After the whale attacks the lifeboats many of the men make it to shore. They are all starving and are seen eating whatever they can find such as raw eggs and fish.
  • Chase finds a cave on the island but what he finds in there makes him cry – the skeletons of previous stranded men.
  • One of the men on the lifeboat dies of starvation. Chase makes the decision that they should eat him to stay alive. Young Thomas is distraught and crying at the thought. This is why he’s been unable to talk about the events ever since. The older Thomas relates how they removed his organs, separated his limbs from the body and removed the flesh from the bones. They ate the heart first. Thomas is still tormented by this and cries while telling the story. He thought he’d committed an abomination

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Younger children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by some of the above-mentioned scenes, including the killing and butchering of whales, the men drawing lots to see who should die, and the accounts of eating a dead man.

Product placement

None

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • One of the crew carves a naked woman out of whalebone. He says that the ‘knobs’ look like his wife’s.

Nudity and sexual activity

Nothing of concern

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Drinking at several places; at home, on the ship, in the Captain’s cabin.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • goddamn
  • arse
  • damn

In a nutshell

In the Heart of the Sea is an adventure drama about surviving a shipwreck, and the life-long effects of such an experience. It is most suited to older teens and adults but, because it will be showing during the school holidays, it is likely to appeal to younger teens and tweens. Parents are warned that it is very realistically portrayed and very intense, particularly the scene when the men draw lots to see who will die, and also the frightening and gruesome scenes of whaling. The narrative about having to eat a dead man to stay alive is very disturbing and makes the film unsuitable for tweens and younger teens.

The main messages from this movie are that moral values are called into question under extreme circumstances and that one shouldn’t judge others who have had to survive under those conditions.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • courage
  • determination
  • fearlessness

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • Is it wrong to do what Chase and his crew did to stay alive?
  • The 19th century values concerning whaling are quite different from today’s values in most countries, but some countries still hunt and kill whales. Is this acceptable?

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