There was a time before computers, GPS, electricity, and oil pumping from underneath the ground that entire cities were lit and powered by whale oil. These majestic creatures swam across the oceans unimpeded until whalers began hunting them and they fled further and further from civilization.
The Whaleship Essex set off from New England on a voyage under the command of Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) which at first was a typical expedition of seamen setting off to sea for anywhere from 6-months to 2-years and then returning home heroes with anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 barrels of whale oil.
Before the story truly unfolds, we are introduced to Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) the moody last surviving member of the Whaleship Essex as he reluctantly agrees to once and for all tell the true story of what happened on the ship that led to its demise while writer Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) records the story by fountain pen which later served the basis for his epic novel, Moby Dick.
Not only did the seamen encounter the elements of Man versus Nature and Man versus Beast, but the lengths Men will go for their personal survival and the inner strength that they must conjure to endure as much pain and suffering as their hope for life will permit them which is what truly is at the heart of this story cinematically crafted by director Ron Howard.
As the movie poster implies and the underlying novel, Moby Dick concludes, the whalers on the Essex encountered a legendary sperm whale the size no one could ever imagine that in essence was enacting revenge on the Whaleship Essex for all of the whales killed by whalers in their greedy pursuit for whale oil. As the giant whale torments and pursues the whalers, their survival, teamwork, courage, and desire to go back home while lost at sea propels the story forward and ultimately lays the foundation for our voyeuristic pleasure.
The movie will take you back in time, to a different era, a seemingly enlightened one unafraid of monsters and sailing off the edge of the world, that is quickly overcome by the darkness brought forth by a monster in the form of a sperm whale. If you enjoyed reading Moby Dick, you will enjoy learning about the survivors…