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Film / Whale Rider

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The 2002 film Whale Rider, directed by Niki Caro, is an adaptation of Witi Ihimaera's 1987 novel The Whale Rider, itself based on the Māori legend of Paikea, or Kahutia Te Rangi, who rode from the ancestral home of Hawaiki to New Zealand's East Coast on the back of a whale.

The tribe founded by Paikea has always been led by the previous chief's firstborn son, in a line of descent stretching back to the whale rider himself. However, in the late 20th century, a daughter, Paikea Apirana "Pai", is born, and the death of her mother makes her the only child in the line of succession. The story follows her as she challenges the traditions of her people and struggles for recognition and acceptance.


Contains examples of:

  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Pai originally had a twin brother, but he died at birth along with their mother. The angst part comes from Koro wishing his grandson had survived (possibly to the point of You Should Have Died Instead) so that he would have an heir, with Pai desperately trying to make her grandfather proud.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Variant. Pai's grandfather refuses to let her take part in the trials to become the next chief because she's a girl. The last trial is to retrieve a whale-tooth necklace that he threw into the deepest part of the bay, and none of the boys can do it. Pai does so but doesn't tell anyone, and instead saves the beached whales (mimicking the actions of her legendary ancestor) but lapses into a coma due to the effort. Her grandmother finds the necklace on her, and gives it to her husband.
    Grandfather: Which one?
    Grandmother: What do you mean, which one!?
  • Daddy Didn't Show:
    • Paikea is heartbroken when her grandfather doesn't show up to hear her speech. That she wrote for him. It turns out he had a good excuse (he had been on his way to the presentation, but found a whale beached and stopped to help it), but she doesn't know that; given his recent behavior, she (reasonably enough) concludes that he just didn't care enough to show up.
    • Played with for Hemi— he is overjoyed when his father, freshly out of prison, comes to see him perform the chant he's learned. But then the dad leaves immediately after Hemi's part, not stopping to spend any more time with his son.
  • Death by Childbirth: Pai's mother Rehua died giving birth to her.
  • Demoted to Extra: Rawiri in the film. In the book he is the narrator and has a more important, spiritually-charged role as Pai's protector.
  • Disappeared Dad: Poraurangi leaves New Zealand and travels the world, and his visits are brief and far apart. His surviving child, Pai, is raised by his parents. This is a slight change from the novel, where Pouraurangi was living on the South Island with his new wife but frequently came back to visit the iwi.
  • Embarrassing Slide: When Pai's father does a slide show to tell the family about what he's been doing in Europe, a problem with a projector results in the show suddenly skipping to the last slide, which he'd been planning to lead up to gradually: a photo of him with his new girlfriend. Especially embarrassing because his parents invited an unattached local woman to the slide show in the hope that she and he would hit it off.
  • Excessive Mourning: Poraurangi loses his wife and son in one day, and his mother says to give him time to mourn. However, spending thirteen years globe-trotting and neglecting his very much alive daughter, that's excessive. The breakdown may have been fueled by his father's sky-high expectations.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: In the book, Uncle Rawari is the first person narrator who tells the story of Paikea Apirana.
  • Foreshadowing: Koro holds up a piece of rope and tells Paikea that each individual strand of flax represents one of her ancestors to teach her a parable about tradition and continuity. When the rope snaps while he's using it to rev an engine and he goes to get another one, she manages to repair it while he's gone.
  • Girl of the Week: Rawiri's many interchangeable girlfriends in the book. In the film he seems to be in a steady relationship with Shilo.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Koro Apirana. He has spent the last thirteen years hoping that his oldest son will come back and take up the mantle of chief, but when he realizes Poraurangi has no such plans, Koro's frustration mounts, and treats his family with bitterness.
  • Heir Club for Men: The source of a lot of the story's conflict. In the end Koro accepts his granddaughter as his heir, and it's implied that Rawiri has a greater capacity for leader than anyone gave him credit for.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In the climax, Pai climbs onto the largest whale's back and coaxes it back into the ocean, causing the other beached whales to follow, saving them all. Pai nearly drowns as a result, though she ultimately survives.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Koro Apirana. He's rather gruff, and he refuses to call Pai by her true given name, but he does love her very much.
  • Last Request: With her last breath, Pai's mother whispers the name "Paikea" twice, and the people around (except for Koro) accept this as her bequeathing the name to her living child.
  • Meaningful Name: Pai's full name of Paikea is the same as her Famous Ancestor, the whale rider. In the end Pai becomes a whale rider too.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Koro clearly regrets his poor treatment of Pai when she almost drowns coaxing the beached whales back into the ocean. At her hospital bed, he proclaims her the true leader of the tribe and begs her forgiveness.
  • Nature Spirit: The whale.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Nanny Flowers.
  • Once Upon a Time: 'In the old days, in the years that have gone before us...'.
  • Ocean Awe: It's about the Māori in New Zealand. The Pacific Ocean is part of their culture, after all.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Pai, after her father leaves the island. Her grandparents clearly love her, although in the course of the film Koro Apirana turns bitter and takes it out on Pai.
  • Scenery Porn: Again, New Zealand. There are many, many shots of the beautiful landscape, and there are especially long shots of the Pacific coastline. Becomes Scenery Gorn for the last half-hour, when the pod of whales are beached and dying.
  • "Well Done, Granddaughter" Girl: Pai for much of the story.
    • Her father and uncle are both late stages of the "Well Done, Son" Guy, in different flavors. Porourangi, the eldest son, has lived with his dad's constant expectations and pressure to take up the role of chieftain, leading to a breakdown and Excessive Mourning after his wife and son died. Rawiri, the second son, has long since resigned himself to never, ever being good enough for his father.


Video Example(s):


Whale Rider

Paikea's grandfather never shows up to her dedicated speech--for important reasons, though.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / DaddyDidntShow

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