I grew up in a home with books in every room. Even before my mother taught me to read, I would scan the colorful book covers on the shelves. One of them, embedded in my memories of childhood, was The Kon-Tiki Expedition by Raft Across the South Seas by Thor Heyerdahl. Heyerdahl was a Norwegian anthropologist who developed a theory that the Polynesian islands were peopled from the east by South Americans who arrived by raft, rather than from Asia, which was the prevailing theory. To prove that his idea was possible, he and an adventurous crew of five (four Norwegians and a Swede), constructed a primitive balsa wood raft, the Kon-Tiki, in Peru and attempted to head west, powered by the wind alone.
The Kon-Tiki expedition set off on April 28, 1947. In a world still traumatized by a world war that had ended less than two years earlier, Heyerdahl’s adventure caught the public imagination. Thanks to periodic radio communication, The New York Times, for example, carried a map that displayed the boat’s daily progress. When the Kon-Tiki crash-landed in the Tuamotu Islands 101 days later, Heyerdahl became an international celebrity. He was clever enough to film the whole experience and edit it into a movie that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1951.
The new feature film based on the Kon-Tiki expedition deals with Heyerdahl’s frustrating attempts to prove to skeptics that his project is worth financing. However the bulk of the story takes place on the raft during the difficult early weeks of the voyage as the crew faces storms, sharks, doubts and that bane of early sailors — lack of wind. It’s an exciting story, well-presented.
Kon-Tiki is directed by childhood friends Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg. I was fortunate to attend a public screening of Kon-Tiki, after which Rønning and Sandberg, along with screenwriter Petter Skavlan and star Pål Sverre Hagen, answered questions from the audience. One audience member asked how it was possible that they were able to make such a spectacular film for only $16 million. The directors looked at each other sheepishly and then one responded, “Actually it was the most expensive film ever made in our country. We do things differently in Norway.”
As a side note, Thor Heyerdahl, when he was older, looked remarkably like Joe Biden.