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Film / In the Heart of the Sea

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Innkeeper Thomas Nickerson is the last survivor of the whaleship Essex and agrees to tell the secret details of the experience to novelist Herman Melville, who seeks inspiration for a novel he intends to call "Moby Dick".

In the Heart of the Sea is a 2015 biographical adventure film based on Nathaniel Philbrick's 2000 non-fiction book of the same name. The film was directed by Ron Howard and stars Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, Frank Dillane, and Brendan Gleeson.



  • Action Survivor: Thomas Nickerson, who survives the ordeal to tell the tale (obviously).
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: The Essex crew resorting to No Party Like a Donner Party is treated like a supreme taboo that must be jealously concealed, when in fact it was an acceptable possibility of seafaring life with no particular social stigma in a community as tied to the sea as Nantucket.
    • The story of the Essex was not some secret mystery that Melville had to pry out of Nickerson, it was an (in)famous sea tale well known to the men of the whaling trade and captured in popular imagination, if not spoken of too openly by the austere Quaker community of Nantucket. Pollard would speak openly of the story from the very moment he was rescued, and Chase and Nickerson would both write down accounts. Chase became a minor celebrity off the back of the publication of his book.
  • Adaptational Backstory Change: Chase is altered from a Nantucketer to an off-islander son of a farmer (what would be known to the Nantucketers by the slur "coof") to add drama and fuel the conflict between him and the film version of Pollard. In reality, the bond between the Nantucketers, Chase among them, is theorized to have been a source of strength and brotherhood that allowed them to survive whereas the coofs were ostracized along with the African-American crewmen and the majority of them assigned to the ill-fated boat led by second mate Joy.
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  • Adaptational Name Change: Understandably to avoid the audience confusing him with main character Owen Chase, Owen Coffin is renamed to Henry Coffin.
  • Adaptational Mundanity: The "white whale" is instead portrayed as a heavily-scarred individual whose whiteness comes from extensive scarring, as opposed to the traditional portrayal of Moby Dick as an albino. While rare, albino sperm whales have been documented, and the inspiration of the tale, Mocha Dick was historically known to indeed be an albino sperm whale. In 2021, an albino sperm whale was sighted near Jamaica.
  • The Alcoholic: Joy used to be one, and he managed to stay sober throughout the entire movie.
  • Animals Not to Scale: The titular sperm whale turns out to be a 100 ft (30 meters) bull. That is, it is almost as long as your average blue whale. The largest known sperm whales measured up to 65.5 ft (20 meters). Accounts of 100-ft sperm whales were not unheard of, but no such beast has ever been scientifically verified.
    • The real whale was estimated by eyewitnesses to be roughly 85 feet long, as he surfaced immediately after ramming Essex the first time and was observed to be comparable in length to the 88-foot ship. This is still 20 feet longer than the largest confirmed sperm whale. Whether the white whale really was that big or exaggerated as "the one that got away" often is is uncertain.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The sperm whale attacking the ship is indicated to be male, and is presented as the leader of a pod, protecting his family. Male sperm whales are actually solitary, and only converge with others during the mating season.
  • Childhood Friends: First Officer Owen Chase and Second Officer Matthew Joy. Thomas also has an older friend whom he sees as a brother.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The white whale vs the Essex. The whale wins in less than a minute.
  • Dwindling Party: The Essex's survivors.
  • Framing Device: The main story is told by the elderly Thomas Nickerson to Herman Melville.
  • Hero Antagonist: The White Whale, given that he protects a female and her calf as well as an entire pod.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The Owen Chase of the film can do no wrong, which is rather ironic since the film uses an elderly Nickerson as its Framing Device while Philbrick's book uses the elderly Nickerson's account to challenge Chase's more famous account which probably made Chase as heroic as possible so he could keep getting jobs as a whaler:
    • He opposes every questionable decision made by his incompetent captain. In real life, his heroic leadership of his open boat is certainly commendable, but he also made several questionable decisions before, during, and after the sinking that may have put the crew in further danger, particularly the decision to head south into the open sea to find winds instead of heading for the relatively close Society Islands, which arguably led to the whole cannibalism situation.
    • He heroically dives into the sinking Essex to retrieve valuable navigation equipment, complete with Outrun the Fireball, a feat actually committed by the ship's steward in real life.
    • Ultimately, he has an epiphany that whaling is immoral and decides to settle down with his family. This cannot be further from the truth of the man who went on to have a long and successful career as a whaling captain while going through four marriages in his lifetime, and was said by some who served under him to have carried a personal vendetta against the whale that stove the Essex before spending his later years in a mental institution.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Captain George Pollard, which is rather ironic since the Philbrick's book takes pains to portray Pollard sympathetically.
    • Pollard is portrayed as a haughty and inexperienced Blue Blood who owes his captaincy to nepotism when in reality Pollard had already served as a Mate on the Essex itself for several years and was justly deserving of his promotion.
    • He holds his officers in contempt and steers the Essex recklessly into a storm. In reality, the Essex did get caught in a storm four days out of Nantucket, but it was due to the officers' collective miscalculation not Pollard's arrogance, and there were no Never My Fault recriminations afterward. In fact, Pollard was if anything too willing to heed the advice of Chase and Joy, who didn't always make the best decisions, particularly in heading south in search of variable breezes after the sinking instead of making for the Society Islands (ironically because they probably feared being Captured by Cannibals).
    • Pollard did indeed reprimand his young cousin for trying to invoke familial privilege, but the film turns an understandable and somewhat comical moment into a sinister one since historically the boy was hoping to be excused from duty due to seasickness (which many other young sailors were also suffering), not standing up to Pollard on behalf of the whole crew.
    • Lastly, in the film Pollard is implied to have wrecked his second ship pursuing a personal vendetta against the whale, when by all evidence it was Chase who carried on a vendetta (unlike in the film where Chase has an epiphany and gives up whaling) and just about everyone who served under Pollard had only praise for him and felt it unfair he was forced to retire from the sea after the luckless loss of his second ship.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Owen Coffin acts like a dick to pretty much everyone. However, near the end, he sacrifices himself to save his cousin Pollard. And once again, in real life, it was actually the other way around; When Coffin drew a lot that would see him being eaten, Pollard swore to protect the boy and even offered to take his place. Coffin gently refused and accepted his fate.
  • Lighter and Softer: At the end, Melville assures the Nickersons that he's going to write a novel Very Loosely Based on a True Story, and doesn't intend to include the goriest parts of the crew's ordeal. Nor does he. ... Instead, his crew is killed when Moby Dick sinks the ship — save the narrator, who is immediately rescued.
  • Moby Schtick: Naturally, since the events inspired the novel, but subverted in that this is the first contact with the leviathan and the Essex is unable to put up a fight. The ending narrates that Pollard went out again looking for the white whale but he never found it.
  • Nepotism: George Pollard, Jr. is chosen as Captain of the Essex — over the more-experienced Owen Chase — because Pollard comes from a well-established family and his father is one of the investors. In real life, Pollard was much more experienced than Chase and fully deserved his position as Captain.
  • Never My Fault:
    • The ship survives a storm, thanks to Owen's efforts. Pollard instructs him to tell the crew they'll be heading back to Nantucket for repairs, where Owen would resign in public for decisions that nearly sunk the Essex. Owen points out that it was Pollard's decision to not take down the sails that nearly got the ship sunk until it was too late to do so and Pollard won't have any of it. Notably, none of this happened in real life, it was a simple error that saw the ship running into an unfortunate storm, Chase didn't save the day and Pollard didn't threaten to blame him for the incident.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: The Essex's survivors eventually have to resort to cannibalism, which haunts Thomas for decades.
  • Plucky Middie: Thomas. He's a teenager on his first sail and the youngest of the crew by a margin. The plucky part has to be coaxed into him by Chase, and he ends up traumatized for life due to the horrors they lived through.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Owen Chase refuses to lie about the Essex's fate even after his employers offer him a bribe. Pollard eventually also decides the truth is more important than his family's good name.
  • Sea Monster: The white whale, inspiration to Moby Dick itself.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The white sperm whale pursues the survivors of the ''Essex'' shipwreck with no reason given. Given the aforementioned attack, it probably acknowledged their dangerousness very quickly however given to the fact that sperm whales are very aggressive creatures by nature and have been known to attack ships without reason it seems unlikely that the monster was attacking out of any feeling for its mate and offspring and only because it needed something to unleash its natural aggression on until it finally became bored.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Benjamin Lawrence winded a small piece of twine every day while adrift; the resulting rope he kept with him for the rest of his life as a memento of the incident.
  • Working-Class Hero: Moral implications notwithstanding, traditional whaling is realistically depicted as hard, dangerous, filthy work that could potentially earn a man a decent living or just as easily kill him.