Sacrificial love describes the action of sacrificing oneself to stop torment or suffering of another person or group of people. It can be seen in the Bible through Jesus' crucifixion. Other examples relating to self sacrifice can also be seen in symbolic sacrifices of the body. Denial of physical needs and desires such as food, sleeping, sex and enduring extreme weather in religious contexts. The emulation of Jesus' torture and death through crucifixion in religious contexts is an example of a form of sacrificial love. In Whale Rider the main example of sacrificial love is seen through Paikea's self sacrifice for her community and traditions. She is willing to sacrifice her own life to protect and continue her community and family's traditions and beliefs. In Neil Hurley's text " Theology through film" he describes the common theme of sacrificial love in any humanity story "One of the tests of humanity is precisely the ability to meet sacrifice when circumstances demand it" (Hurley, 145) Pai giving her life to the whale showed her courage and faith and her true destiny as chief of the tribe. It is her duty to protect the traditions and if in saving the whales she dies, it does not matter. Her actions are focused on others not personal gain. Through her actions, others validate her as chief. She is not afraid and is a true leader. The traditions are sacred. Her sacrifice is for the reinforces that she puts tradition and belief first, over personal well-being.
The theme of rebirth and resurrection in this film can be seen as a Christian theme symbolizing Jesus’ rebirth after the crucifixion. Many elements of nature and other religions demonstrate rebirth themes. In Whale Rider, Pai awakening in the hospital is an example of rebirth and resurrection. In David Fillingim's article "When Jesus was a girl..." he alludes to Pai throughout the article as a Christ figure ". The portrayal of Pai as a Christ figure may be read alternatively as a subversion of colonial religion. In Portraying Pai as a Christ figure , the film could be saying in effect, on behalf of Maori people, "We don't need the white man's Jesus we are capable of producing our own Maori saviors." (Fillingim, 19) Fillingim also discusses the symbolism of Pai's death and rebirth as a Christic symbol "The audience and the other characters assume that Pai has died... Pai lies unconcious. After her symbolic death, her grandfather Koro finally recognizes her for who she really is and utters beside what may be her deathbed confession evocing the dying thief on the cross beside Jesus...In the films final triumphal scene, it is revealed that Pai has fully recovered and assumed her rightful role as leader."(Fillingim, 14)
The Taniwha in Maori mythology can take the form of any sea creature. It is said to be the form some humans take when they die. Pai drowned while ontop of a Taniwha bringing her spiritual self closer to the Taniwha. In the movie we assume she dies until we see her in the hospital. One can wonder if she has gained supernatural knowledge from the Taniwha after returning from this near death and liminal state. Koro realizes his mistake and that Pai is the true leader of their Iwi. He confesses to her "Wise leader, forgive me. I am just a fledgling new to flight." Her rebirth demonstrates a renewal in traditions and the ancestors beliefs. The film portrays the traditions, folklore and the confirmation of Maori beliefs as the shining light in this urbanized world. Pai’ rebirth gave back meaning to the land and the community.
Nature and Religion
In many religions a divine figure has an affinity with a godly being. Pai and Koro seem to be able to sense a unity with their ancestor Paikea and other spiritual beings. The other members of the community feel a strong emotional connection to their ancestors and gods. In Ann Hardy's article "Return of the Taniwha" the connection between humans and the divine communicating is made. "Featuring as it does a post modern take on the metaphysical where a psychologised view of the world exemplified by an individual story of self growth is hybridized with a nostalgic sensibility where people, nature and the divine can exist in a spiritual symbiosis." (Hardy, 5) Pai and Koro are more inclined through their spiritual lineage and knowledge to feel a relationship with the gods who eventually take a whale form. The Taniwha in the form of a whale pod represents her affinity for supernatural powers. Pai and Koro seem to share this ability, though he struggles with the realization of what is happening and his own guilt. In Taniwha mythology humans who are able to talk and connect with the Taniwha, will sometimes be reincarnated as a Taniwha after the human life. Pai's resurection and being reborn with full chief knowledge and assertiveness could allude to this insight. In the article "Maori Conversion" by Lachy Paterson the idea that in early Maori religion there were not seperate categories for physical or natural world and the supernatural, spiritual world. "The traditional
Maori worldview possessed physical and spiritual domains which were not separated
but fused together with few boundaries between natural and supernatural
phenomena." (Patterson, 5) Pai and Koro's unity with the old ways brings them closer to nature and therefore a closer relationship with their ancestors and gods.
The concept of divine intervention is present in many Christ focused and mythological stories. In this film divine intervention is portrayed when Pai directly asks the ancestors to hear her call. They answer her in the form of the whales which originally brought the ancestors to their shores. Pai's summoning of the Taniwha shows that she is their new leader, regardless of her gender and birth order.According to Robert Johnston "divine encounter is the most fruitful arena for current inquiry" and "film is especially suited for the making of epiphanies, because of its ''inherent power to affect the imagination.""(Johnston, 57) The function of divine intervention is not only common in spiritual and religious themed films but in narration alone. Recognizing her own divine intervention, Pai accepts her destiny and role as leader by riding the whale out to sea.
The theme of the spiritual journey can be found in religious media. Whale Rider is explicit in its depiction of the journey of Pai, Koro and the community. It follows them in their daily lives and shows how tradition and events culminate in the confrontation of modern versus ancient values. The emphasis is placed on the journey being a spiritual one and is transformative for the key figures and their community. In the beginning of the film Paikea narrates "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. 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. Paikea." The prophecy isn't meant to be an easy or linear one, but already we are told of obstacles that she must overcome to follow this same journey as Paikea the ancestor. Paikea's journey allowed her to fufill her destiny and transcend her obstacles through a legend tripping form narrative.
In the journey, one sees perseverance and the ability to overcome obstacles. Similar to many other religious figures who were misunderstood or mistreated, she overcomes obstacles eventually whether they be mentally, physically or socially. Pai overcame the inability to be chief through her own inner knowledge of her destiny. She knew she could be the chief and knew it would be Koro who had to understand their journey and its meaning. Her perseverance impacted her community by reminding them that the traditional values are the key to life. By Pai being in tune with herself, her surroundings, spirituality and ancestors, it allowed her to complete her spiritual journey.
Scene from Whale Rider: Paikea's Speech: Journey
This scene demonstrates Paikea's ancestry, her obstacles and her potential for greatness.