Whale Rider

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6 December 2012
Religion 100
Religious Themes Through The Whale Rider
Within the movie Whale Rider, a mythic and sacred story is represented through a girl’s struggle in becoming a leader by breaking tradition. Within this contemporary-fairy tale, Whale Rider also entails a spiritual bond that the main character, Paikea, has with a quasi-mystical creature, represented as a whale. The movie Whale Rider fits in the group of mythological film because it “explains a tale full of life mysteries to make them bearable” (Greene 8). Mythology helps people to learn from their ancestor’s stories. By hearing mythic stories, people have an idea on how to be more like their ancestors. Since Whale Rider revolves around mythical themes, it can also be viewed as capturing various religions motifs. In particular, religious themes such as sacrificial love, rebirth and resurrection, nature and religion, and spiritual journey are represented. Critics aspire to say that these religious themes give Whale Rider a positive take on religion.

The beginning of Whale Rider begins with Paikea’s life story. Paikea states in the opening of the movie, “In the old days, the land felt a great emptiness that was waiting, waiting to be filled up, waiting for someone to love it, waiting for a leader. And he came on the back of the whale, a man to lead a new people. Our ancestor, Paikea. But now we were waiting for firstborn of the new generation. For the decedent of the Whale Rider, for the boy who would be chief.” The first opening scene shows Paikea’s parents and her twin brother. Due to complications, Paikea’s twin and her mother both die in the hospital. Paikea’s grandfather, Koro, asks what his son, Pourangani, is going to name the baby. Pourangani turns to Koro and says “Paikea.” When Paikea’s father names her, Koro is angry about her new name. Koro knows Paikea should not be named after her great ancestor. Koro also understands that in Maori culture there has not been a leader named Paikea who is a girl. In Maori legends, first-born boys of a new generation must undergo a series of tests in order to become chief of the community. The chief is selected when each boy completes these tests, as Paikea did. Koro knows that Paikea cannot perform the tests because she is a girl. Maori culture believes that the chief of the community can only be born a boy. This is the reason Koro is so upset when Paikea is named after her ancestor. “The birth story of Paikea is similarly parallel to the Christ narrative” (Fillingim 8). In Biblical context, Joseph was conferred to name Jesus, Jesus.

“’Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’” (Matthew 1:21-23).

When Joseph was conferred upon Jesus, which is a name indicating his mission, Pourangani confers upon Paikea’s gender unfitting name that links her to the great ancestor. Being named after her great ancestor, Paikea’s purpose involves claiming her role as being a female leader in the Maori culture. Like Paikea, Jesus was also named the highest name he could be named in order to lead his followers.

Both Paikea and Jesus share a common aspect to their lives: their fathers are distant. Throughout Paikea’s life, her father is absent, especially after she is born. Compared to Jesus’ father, Paikea’s father leaves her to be raised by his parents. In the Bible, Joseph is never around Jesus. Gathered from biblical content, Stewart argues, “There are not many facts recorded about Joseph in the four gospels. He is mentioned only with respect to the events surrounding Jesus' birth, flight to Egypt, and return to Galilee” (Stewart). Both Jesus and Paikea learn to grow strong without having...
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