The ideal of the feminine: the integrative aesthetic of Whale Rider

Before proceeding to read, please see Whale Rider (2002). This is going to be not a review but an aesthetic analysis, which may reveal wonder, as when Pai thinks, “it’s quiet down deep” (just listen to it). Even so, it’s hard to cover everything in this movie, so be prepared for my patent scattering of thoughts.

Integration is concerned only with the essential and does not include any excess. The movie Whale Rider (2002) is an example of integration. It shows all three main categories: integrator (int-8), idealist (Platonic), and materialist (mat-8), but all from the point of view of the first. From the plot’s related difficulties deemed as failures (such as the death of her brother) to her successes, Whale Rider’s leading protagonist, Paikea Apirana[1], consistently weaves the pattern of “non-A is A,” or integration. The movie shows how an ideal-P (Platonic idealist) Koro is unable to find a leader in his granddaughter Paikea, who is even named after their much awaited chief, but he only sees what he wants to believe, that is, his ideals of a male leader and not reality. In contrast to her grandfather, Pai gives the correct interpretation of reality when in her moving speech she says: “By being born… I broke the line back to the ancient ones. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. It just happened” (the script).

Every time Paikea shows Koro her integrative leadership, whether through succeeding in tying a rope and then starting an engine with it, at which Koro fails, or her calling out the whales at the end and proving her ascendancy by mystical and natural signs, since the supernatural is natural in her case. She even admonishes and later defeats Hemi in self-defense, a potential materialist, whose father’s mat-8 behavior is evident. Even though her idealist grandfather suffers depression from ignorance of reality and a lack of faith in her and her materialist peers make fun of her, everyone in the village later accepts her as the leader who was destined to integrate them. And even while her integration is necessary as proven by the end, it is, so aesthetically depicted, far from automatic.

What would a materialist say?

Materialists, interpreting this movie, would be concerned with the seemingly superficial. For example, looking at the scene with the beached alpha whale, when Paikea approaches him, you may consider his barnacles interesting, but really it is the nose of the whale with which Paikea touches her nose in traditional manner that should be noticed, making the whale a natural companion to the human leader, hence connecting human and animal in an environmental bond. Later, a materialist may consider, again incorrectly, that the whale was not real but artificial and that this, made only for the motion picture, is notable. However, the picture is not the meaning of this whale, being a representation of an actual whale to symbolize the mystical, spiritual bond based on Pai’s faith in herself and nature together.

To a materialist critic this and later scenes may seem meaningless, that is, empty of true meaning, and hence be seen as mere images that she or he cannot grasp fully. Even the seeming lack of suspense may draw materialist’s attention and make her or him think that the prediction of Paikea’s survival is important, but this would only be evident in words of such a critic, since she or he may also doubt own words, thus lacking a genuine belief, right after the scene of Paikea’s submersion, wherein her bond is physically manifested. From the beginning of the movie, however, it was clear for one with an integrative belief that Paikea was destined not only to survive but also become the Māori chief[2]. Additionally, it is evident that the movie is not from the perspective of her idealist grandfather but mostly from her own perspective, since the movie began with her birth and ended with her leadership, while also showing signs of her mystical communication with the whales.

The epistemological relation

Paikea did not leave the island when her dad was taking her away because she listened to her soul as if she was in direct contact with the whale. This contact is represented epistemically, when she reaches with her soul toward the ocean or the whale reaches toward her, her mystical envisioning of the whale can only be interpreted as an internal communication that supersedes any physical boundaries of normal human-to-human communication and instead reaches into the unknown, with a belief in it keeping the communication intact.

If Paikea had abandoned this inner voice, she would have damaged her soul, suppressing the connection to her homeland. If she were to leave and live in other countries, she wouldn’t have found her true self anywhere outside her land and ocean, so this physical ground at the moment is ontologically important in order for her mystical communication to actually occur, sending this signal to her when she was in proximity (space) and in the moment (time) when the message of her true calling made sense (not only to Paikea, but also, hopefully, to a viewer).

As with every integration, reality (in this case, the oceanic environment) and mystery (the communication going beyond yet also including the immediate) are onto-epistemologically united, combined, and connected to make up a whole (cf. Peikoff’s discussion on “Integration: Its Definition” in his DIM Hypothesis).

The logic(s) of the film

Whale Rider clearly shows the difference between the grandfather’s (ideal-P) misintegration and the girl’s (realist/mystic, int-8) integration. Notice how the old man seeks “A” (the male chief) as “A” (the male chief) because he can’t find “non-A as A” in its place. We see the grandfather put up a depressive act, yet he never truly succumbs to pessimism, as he is an optimist by nature.

The seemingly tragic element is fulfilled by the beaching of the whales and the death of some of them, but all of this is merely a surface of the event interpreted as tragic by those who don’t believe in Paikea. The disconnection between “A is A” and “non-A is A” is readily seen in the scene when Paikea cries. She cries but fulfills all her duties even while her grandfather isn’t there to listen to her. In truth, she doesn’t really need him (although that would have helped) because she already has integrated his “A is A” idealism and teachings within herself, and thus she has become independent from him (as is becoming of any integrator after awakening to the truth of their own nature thanks to the resistance and pressures of idealists[3]).

Pai’s bond with her grandfather is strong, since her integration is built upon his misapplied ideals with him serving as the elder of their tribe and her genetic connection to the ancestors. This connection is profound and prolific, even though it’s musically short, as her short-sighted, momentarily estranged old relative. It is important to keep in mind that she couldn’t have done much integration without her grandmother Nanny. Nanny is a key supporting figure with patience and wisdom. Consider how Nanny helps Pai identify Koro’s category and thus guides her: “He’s got a lot of rules he has to live by. . . Sometimes you’ve just got to let him think that he’s the boss.”

The idealists on their own, however, cannot change reality no matter how much they try; all their efforts to save the whales are for naught. The whales wait for the whale rider. Regardless of the difficulties, Pai is also strong in herself, while her bond is stronger with environment through the whale(s) than to her people at first. Notice how the surroundings (the environment with the whales) were changed by Paikea when she first called to them, then caused the alpha whale to save himself with the rest, and thus made the old man change his ways and recognize the truth about the whale rider. Paikea never loses faith, and her covenant with the people is fulfilled. Our time of the blind idealist ignorance may also come to an end, and people would be ready for their integrator. Realizing and accepting the integrator’s coming is crucial to this kind of integration.

Lastly, consider Pai’s theme: the movement, her inclination, and her desire “to dream.” This movie is logically complete and hence emotionally very powerful, showing the incoming truth and signaling for our world to make proper preparations. As shown, “Non-A” is indeed “A,” and the movie is especially great when you are also at the forefront of this realization.

I strongly feel that, in contrast to this ideal of the feminine, there are also much less deserving ladies of “ideals” in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Sicario (2015), but I’ll let you decide.

[1] Keisha Castle-Hughes, nominated for an Oscar for this role, looks and plays her role in great balance: boyish and feminine, strong and emotional, spiritual and down-to-earth.

[2] I would like to note that the Māori culture in this film is realistically depicted through the location, sets, tradition, language, and song.

[3] Similar to Pai’s relation to Koro, I find Rand’s influence instrumental in helping me focus on my true beliefs.


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