In this research paper, we are going to present the critical analysis of two well-known films: “Whale Rider” and “Powwow Highway.”
The setting of Whale Rider is the eastern coast of New Zealand. This place has been their home for more than the millennium. The screenwriter did his best to film the original setting and to follow the pieces of advice of his Maori consultants, which is undoubtedly contributing to the historical and cultural authenticity of the movie. “Whale Rider, a beautiful new film that is finally seeing a limited release after touring various film circuits and garnering lots of awards (including the Audience Award at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and the People’s Choice Award at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival)” (Roger Ebert, (2002)).
The film tells us about the myth of the Maori connected with the chief of the whole tribe.
According to the legend, the first head of came to New Zealand on the top of a whale. From this legend comes the tradition to choose the first newborn child of an existing leader as the chief of the tribe. In the described case the son of the leader of the tribe died soon after birth, and only his twin sister survived. The role of Pai, the daughter of Koro was played by Castle-Hughes, who managed to present her role with deep and bright emotions. “Castle-Hughes imbues Pai with insecurity, determination, frailty, and unbounded love throughout the movie. It is one of the great young-adult performances” (Roger Ebert, (2002)).The good example could be the scene when Pai recites a poet during the school play. The performance of Paratene in the role of her father – Koro is also very good and riveting. We do not see an old person, who simply don’t want to change, we are aware of the internal conflict of the hero. The lessons of Koro could serve as a good guide into the culture of Maori. Myth and reality are closely connected in the film, making it an emotional and vivid story of a girl and her dreams. The film could not be considered slow, as it has its rhythm reflect the rhythm of life of Maori people.
One of the central themes of a story – of women gaining power is not new and unique, but we have hardly ever met it in such a context before. Most tribes were patriarchal societies and to choose a female leader means for such people breaking of their oldest traditions. But the main point of view of the film concentrates on the idea that it is not necessary to break the old set tradition to make any positive changes. Culture and traditions are and should be a part of all nationalities and societies.
Thus, the goal of Pai is not presented as to break one of the oldest traditions of their tribe, but to re-shape it. But throughout the whole movie, we are aware of the unfair treatment of Maori girls and women. The stereotype that a woman can not be a talented, organized and intelligent leader is the main provoking in this film. This kind of stereotype is not connected with this culture only; we could find a lot of examples in history of other nationalities as well.
The second film we are going to analyze in this paper is Powwow Highway. This is a story about a journey of two friends, Philbert Bono and Buddy Red Bow. On the one hand, this film is about traveling and about friendship, on the other side it about Native Americans, about their attitude to their lands, as they think about it only regarding places. Philbert never talked a lot about this matter, but it is still clear that he doesn’t concentrate upon miles of distance, but on the places, he was going through, for the sake of places he chooses far not the straightest way. The main sense of the plot of the story is the reasons why two Indian people decided to take up this journey. The plot is not so interesting and captivating itself. The most important element in the whole film is the two heroes and the time they are to spend together and their relations. With the help of the community of their friends Indians, we are to see how they live and what of rules they still follow. For example when Philbert pointed Protector to the east instead of the south and goes to see the sacred Indian places he follows a kind of inner voice actually and seeks, for now, the justification for himself. These deeds reflect the old Indian tradition of handling the things. In the beginning, Buddy is too modern for all these things, but as journey unfolded, he also started to understand the sense of it.
Although two heroes are so different, in a way even opposite, they manage to develop deep friendly relations.
The location of the film was appropriate and very realistic, the audience could visit trailer parks, stores, suburbs. The can watch dawn in different states and the modern life on roads is as well presented together with distant lands.
It is hard to define the genre of the film unambiguously. It is a comedy in a way and with some subtle thriller characteristics. “Powwow Highway is a movie that makes its point with broad, visual strokes: Buddy’s nieces are ignorant of their heritage and have to ask someone else what tribe they belong to; cowboy-and-Indian movies on TV exemplify cultural deterioration…” (Keith Simanton, (2004)).
Overall, these two movies have some common points, telling about culture and traditions of Native Americans, but the main themes and accents are entirely different in both. One concentrating more of attitude to women and their role in the society, the other paying more attention to friendship and interpersonal relations. Due to an excellent choice of setting, costumes and actors, both films are somewhat vivid and emotional presentations of cultural peculiarities of Native Americans and historically accurate; thus they could be of great use for people interested in these issues.
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