Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Whale Rider (2002)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Whale Rider (2002, NZ)

In director/writer Niki Caro's New Zealand family drama about an intelligent young girl's relationship with her tribal chieftain grandfather who had unjust and unfair disdain for her as the tribe's future leader because she was born female:

  • in the opening scene of this film, a crisis of leadership in a small Maori village was described (in a voice-over) by a young 12 year-old Maori girl Paikea or "Pai" (Keisha Castle-Hughes); she told about how the leadership of the Ngati Konohi was called into question when at birth, she had survived while her twin brother died - and her grandfather Koro (Rawiri Paratene) refused to acknowledge her destiny as a female leader - as a descendant of Paikea, a whale rider: "In the old days, the land felt a great emptiness. It was waiting. Waiting to be filled up. Waiting for someone to love it. Waiting for a leader. (childbirth sequence) And he came on the back of a whale. A man to lead a new people. Our ancestor, Paikea. But now we were waiting for the firstborn of the new generation, for the descendant of the whale rider. For the boy who would be chief. There was no gladness when I was born. My twin brother died, and took our mother with him"
Opening Sequence: Paikea's Mother Giving Birth
(Losing Male Child and Her Own Life)
  • the foreshadowing scene in which a confident Paikea dove into the deep ocean water and retrieved the rei puta (whale tooth) that Koro had deposited into the sea; according to traditional legend, the one who was successful in that task was rightfully worthy of becoming the leader
  • the scene in which Paikea gave a speech during a school's evening program of Maori chants; she spoke about her ancestors, holding back tears and profoundly disappointed as she delivered it because her grandfather - Maori chief Koro, who she had invited as the guest of honor, was shunning her and was not in attendance: "This speech is a token of my deep love and respect - for Koro Apirana, my grandfather. My name is Paikea Apirana. (pause) And I come from a long line of chiefs, stretching all the way back to Hawaiiki where our ancient ones are, the ones that first heard the land crying and sent a man. His name was also Paikea and I am his mo-most recent descendant. But I was not the leader my grandfather was expecting, and by being born, I broke the line back to the ancient ones. It wasn't anybody's fault. It just happened. (Cutaway to Koro discovering beached whales, and asking himself: "Who is to blame?") But we can learn. And if the knowledge is given to everyone, we can have lots of leaders. And soon, everyone will be strong - not just the ones that've been chosen. Because sometimes, even if you're the leader and you need to be strong, you can get tired. Like our ancestor, Paikea, when he was lost at sea, and he couldn't find the land, and he probably wanted to die. But he knew the ancient ones were there for him, so he called out to them to lift him up and give him strength. This is his chant. I dedicate it to my grandfather"
  • the mass beaching of whales and the desperate and valiant attempts by the Maori tribe members to keep them alive
  • and the mystical scene in which Paikea climbed up on and literally rode the back of the largest beached whale out to sea, having coaxed it and restored its will to live so it could unbeach itself: (she courageously said: "I wasn't afraid to die"); she saved the whales when the massive whale led the entire pod back to the sea - but also dragged Paikea underwater - and she was feared drowned by her family
Paikea Sitting Astride The Largest Beached Whale and Riding It Out to Sea
  • the scene of Koro's acceptance of Paikea as a new Maori chief or leader as she lay unconscious in a hospital bed - he asked for her forgiveness: "Wise leader, forgive me. I am just a fledgling new to flight"; she briefly opened her eyes to acknowledge him
  • the final shot of grandfather, uncle, father and granddaughter together at sea on the maiden voyage of their Maori long canoe (waka), as Paikea led the chant while wearing Koro's whale tooth necklace
Film's Conclusion: Maiden Voyage of Long Canoe

Paikea Leading the Chant - With Her Grandfather by Her Side
  • the last lines of dialogue (in voice-over): "My name is Paikea Apirana, and I come from a long line of chiefs stretching all the way back to the whale rider. I'm not a prophet, but I know that our people will keep going forward, all together, with all of our strength" - similar to the words that Paikea had spoken in her school speech

Maori's Whale Ancestor

Paikea Emerging From Water With the Whale Tooth (and a Lobster)

Paikea's School Speech Scene

Valiant Maori Tribal Efforts to Save Beached Whales

Paikea: "I wasn't afraid to die"

Paikea's Grandfather at Her Bedside


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