Differences Between the Whale Rider and Whale Rider

Categories: Whale Rider

There are several similarities and differences between The Whale Rider and Whale Rider. The following chapter will compare and contrast the content, the structure, e.g. the narrative perspective, and the whale stranding incidents. Lastly, there will be an investigation on whether a shift of emphasis concerning the central themes was made by Niki Caro compared to the novel.

First of all, the film only follows one narrative thread, so Ihimaera’s mythical thread will be ignored in the following. Otherwise, both works begin and end with similar content but differ significantly in between.

Caro closely sticks to the novel during the first seven minutes. Both pieces begin with a re-narration of Paikea’s myth before the future female hero is born. Rehua assigns a history-charged and traditionally male name to the newborn baby in both cases and then dies of birth complications.

This takes three weeks in The Whale Rider (Ihimaera 26) though whereas in the film, her life ends once she has uttered she wants her child to be named Paikea.

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Porourangi then acts according to her wish. A difference regarding the circumstances of the birth is that in the novel, Nanny, Koro and Rawiri do not go to the hospital and receive all their information over the phone (Ihimaera 12-13). In the movie, they drive to the hospital shortly after the birth and Rehua’s death (3:13).

After the birth theme is finished, the storylines separate, the only similarity being that Porourangi has started a relationship with An(n)a who is expecting a child from him in the film while in The Whale Rider, Putiputi is born when Kahu is seven (Ihimaera 61).

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The birth cord burial is unique to the novel, and so are Rawiri’s reports on his trips to foreign countries and, conclusively, any foreign venues and non-Maori characters. Furthermore, the toe biting incident, Koro’s participation in nationwide meetings of Maori chiefs, and Rawiri’s biker gang are absent from the movie.

Caro replaces the gang members by Rawiri’s lethargic friends. Furthermore, as Rawiri describes, Kahu starts communicating with whales at an early age. In the movie, Pai’s interaction with whales is limited to occasional camera shots featuring the animals while whale noises are played in the background until the girl calls out to the ancestors. Apart from Paikea’s myth, Whale Rider lacks any other myths.

Unique scenes to the movie are Pai being taken by Koro on the bike, the scene of Nanny and her two friends playing cards while smoking (Caro 8:51), and the small concert in the marae during which Paikea’s journey is re-enacted by Pai and the boys. The boat engine and rope scene is not part of the novel either, and neither is the scene when Koro tries to set Pai’s school teacher up with Porourangi (Caro 19:37). Generally, apart from the scenes shot at the hospital and the elementary school, all scenes set outside the community are omitted in the film which adds to the image of isolation of Whangara.

Caro assigns more space to Koro’s school for the boys than Ihimaera. Only half a page of the novel explicitly deals with this school, and one sentence reveals there are seven boys (Ihimaera 72, 67) whereas eight are present during the chant and taiaha lessons (Caro 36:14, 37:11). The lessons of the school are depicted in detail in Whale Rider which includes the opening ceremony and the lessons featuring dealing with chant or the haka. The taiaha does not appear in the novel.

A major difference is that while in the novel, there is not a single gap exceeding two years which enables the reader to trace Kahu’s development and the different stages of her childhood quite consistently, the movie skips twelve years after Pai’s birth, so Kahu’s development of visible leadership skills proceeds steadily, but with Pai, it seems to take less than a season. The school ceremony takes place in late spring (Caro 1:04:41), and before, there are certainly no scenes set in winter; otherwise, the locals would not be wearing short sleeves and pants all the time.

The plots become similar again from Koro’s final task in the film and Pai’s speech in The Whale Rider on. Afterwards, almost all ensuing crucial incidents are present in both works, namely, next to those listed above, the girl’s dive for the item Koro had thrown into the water, the stranding incidents, the rescue operation, Koro being handed over a desired object by Nanny, the girl falling into a coma after riding the sacred whale, waking up in hospital, and being confirmed as Koro’s successor by the leader himself. Also, several community members are present at the hospital in both cases (Ihimaera 122, Caro 1:28:55).

Whale Rider adds three more scenes to this passage. Firstly, Pai temporarily moves to Rawiri and Shilo after the boys’ failure has caused Koro’s depression. In the novel, Kahu accompanies Nanny and Rawiri on the boat once she has noticed Koro is depressed (Ihimaera 72-73). Secondly, after Pai has moved in with her uncle, she and Koro call out to the ancestors. Page 89 in the novel suggests she does the same but Koro does certainly not. Thirdly, the finale is unique to Whale Rider.

The importance of canoes in Maori history is addressed in the novel, but Porourangi’s waka does not occur. In contrast, the film omits Nanny falling into a coma after Kahu’s disappearance and ending up in the same hospital as her great-granddaughter (Ihimaera 117). Furthermore, neither is Nanny present when Koro is sitting next to Pai’s hospital bed in the movie and handing leadership over to the girl nor do the other locals enter the room. Otherwise, Caro changes the order of the key scenes taken from the novel by putting Pai’s diving scene before the school ceremony which clashes with the stranding of the whale herd. The novel is free from any temporal clashes.

Niki Caro combines the two whale stranding incidents taking place at different locations and on consecutive days in the novel to one whale stranding. At Wainui Beach, a herd with 200 animals beaches itself before the next day, only the sacred whale strands. When Koro goes down to the beach in the film, several whales are lying next to Paikea’s whale. The scenes of the locals staying up all night and crying when a whale dies remind of the passionate rescue efforts at Wainui Beach.

There are no exploiters in Whangara though, and the tragedy is not broadcast on television or radio, so the inhabitants of Whangara need to solve this problem nobody else knows about on their own. Additionally, no whales are refloated by the locals, and the animals are not making any noises reminding of sadness or desperation. Apart from that, in the novel, Rawiri’s family witnesses and hears the arrival of the whale herd from the veranda (Ihimaera 89-90) while in Niki Caro’s film, the whales have already beached themselves when Koro finds them, so this must have happened quietly and without a dull boom.

Furthermore, Koro does tell Rawiri to collect the men to turn the whale around, but when the rescue operation effectively starts, women and children are participating as well (Caro 1:17:34, 1:19:07) while in the novel, Koro does not allow the women to assist until he realises the inability of the men to turn the sacred ancestor. Similarities are that firstly, Rawiri attaches a rope to the tail fluke of the whale, secondly, the locals use a tractor to pull the whale around (Ihimaera 99, Caro 1:19:01) , and thirdly, they all chant while pulling (Ihimaera 100, Caro 1:19:07). Otherwise, in Whale Rider, the rope seals the failure of the operation while in the novel, the whale decides not to return to the ocean after only the men’s plan had not worked out due to a snapped rope. The heroine is excluded from both rescue attempts (Ihimaera 94, Caro 1:18:03).

Pai’s rescue of the bull whale is depicted much less spectacularly and dramatically than Kahu’s. While Kahu has to swim through high waves and then talks to the whale by introducing herself as Paikea (Ihimaera 102-103), Pai mounts the creature from the beach after touching its body for a while, greeting it with a hongi, and then simply whispering “Come on!” while kicking its flanks. Moreover, Kahu climbs the whale at night and is only illuminated by spotlights, but Pai saves the ancestor in the morning after the entire village has stayed up all night to care for the other whales before turning to Paikea’s whale.

This adds to the blending of the two stranding incidents in the film since the helpers at Wainui Beach spend the night keeping the stranded whales alive while the next day, the bull whale is saved by Kahu before the following day has started. Additionally, nobody sees Pai climb the ancient whale and ride it out to the sea whereas all eyes are on Kahu once the first spotlight catches her amidst the waves. The ways the girl is separated from the whale differ as well. Whereas the bull whale actively makes Kahu fall off its body (Ihimaera 122) and ensures she is put into a nest of kelp, Pai lets go of the whale’s back and ascends to the surface, probably out of unconsciousness (Caro 1:27:35).

The perspective of the film is an omniscient narration with a strong focus on Pai. It is entirely different from Rawiri’s first-person narration in the novel. Moreover, the plot of Whale Rider follows a single thread and is linear while in the novel, there are multiple flashbacks, especially to Maori myths. This technique stresses the notion of even items separated by time being interconnected which makes them part of the oneness of the world.

Although the plots of both works differ significantly in phases, some overall similarities are still discernible even in the seemingly “unique” parts. Both works involve a character being absent from Whangara for a longer time. In The Whale Rider, this is Rawiri through his long-lasting travels, while in the movie, this role is filled out by Porourangi who lives in Germany until moving back home for the finale. Both characters are, moreover, endangered to lose their connection to the homeland and, conclusively, their cultural identity. With Porourangi, the danger seems higher since his white girlfriend is expecting a child from him which binds him to Germany more strongly than Rawiri is bound to Australia or Papua New Guinea. It is probably primarily the love for his daughter which drives Porourangi back home since he can be sure the community will be facing better times under Pai’s leadership in the future, so he will not be unable to stand to stay in Whangara after the development of the village has been that negative and depressing over the last years.

This is how he explains his frequent travels to Koro (Caro 21:47). Rawiri is probably mainly driven by the feeling of not belonging with Western people which emerges out of their racism towards him and demonstrates him he is not considered as part of their culture. Additionally, feeling how much his family loves him despite the distance between them makes him miss them increasingly. Both characters eventually return to their family and their hometown since this is where they belong. Strikingly, only males struggle to maintain their cultural identity in both cases. Not a single significant female character in novel and film doubts she lives in the right place and wants to dive into the Western world instead.

The plot increases its speed in both cases after the person from whose perspective the novel is told respectively the character the movie mainly focuses on returns to Whangara from somewhere else. Once Rawiri has come back home from Papua New Guinea, one incident follows the other, starting from the school ceremony, continuing with the carved stone and then culminating with the two cases of whale beaching. This might be because both Rawiri and Pai realise Whangara is where they belong when they determine to return. After this decision has been made, the time is ripe for them to witness the crucial events deciding their tribal future, and to impact their outcome actively. In the film, Pai tells Porourangi to drive her back home after being on the road for less than a day.

From her return on, she demonstrates Koro increasingly overtly she knows she is meant to be the new leader. This becomes visible through her frustrated reaction to being condoned by Koro while he is discussing with two other elderly locals, or refusing to move to the back during the opening ceremony of the school and preferring to leave the area around the marae instead (Caro 34:55). The phrase “Haumi e, hui e, taiki e” is present in both works. In the movie, it is applied when the waka is pushed into the ocean for its maiden voyage at 1:32:05. This might aim at blessing the canoe before it comes into touch with the sea. Koro’s eulogy for Pai’s dead brother at 6:09 also ends with these words.

Updated: Feb 25, 2024
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Differences Between the Whale Rider and Whale Rider. (2024, Feb 25). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/differences-between-the-whale-rider-and-whale-rider-essay

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