Whale Rider

One young girl dared to confront the past, change the present and determine the future

Set on the lovely wild coastline of New Zealand, this is the story of Pai, a Maori girl who must defy tradition in order to continue the line of her people and chieftains. Pai is the only surviving twin of the son of a Maori chief. His wife dying in childbirth, the grief-stricken father leaves Pi in the care of her grandparents and leaves to work in Europe.

Growing up surrounded by the clash between traditions and modern life, Pi is all too aware that as a girl she is a disappointment to her grandfather who wanted a grandson to continue the line of chiefs. With a real sense of awe and pride in her ancestry, Pai is determined to prove she is as good as any boy and can become chief of the tribe, despite strong opposition from her grandfather and the ambivalent reaction of the tribe.

What follows is a moving story of a battle of wills between a girl who realises that the past cannot live into the future without some concessions, and an old man who cannot conceive of any change to the ways he has grown old in.

Featuring an ethereal score by Lisa Gerrard (who vocalised on the 'Gladiator' soundtrack), the tale is surrounded by the most gorgeous cinematography and scenic views of one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. The tension between the tribe, tradition and the history that inflects the landscape is written across the wide expanses of white beaches, the clouds in the sky and the waves that roar ever-presently in the background.

Keisha Castle-Hughes as little Pai is a natural talent with a great deal of charm and grace, and this is one story that manages not to sink too far into maudlin schmaltz, yet will unashamedly be tugging at your heartstrings as you plump for Pai in the face of stony-faced odds, and the scene where she finally finds her whale is one of the loveliest in contemporary cinema.

Highly recommended.

Rotten Tomatoes Score:



Drama, Family


Niki Caro


Niki Caro


Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis, Grant Roa, Mana Taumaunu, Rachel House


Lisa Gerrard


101 minutes




New Zealand, Germany


English, Maori


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