Comments regarding the historical accuracy of Kon-Tiki

This is not a review! I just want to get a few points across about the issues regarding the historical accuracy of this movie.

First off: Explanations. Kon-Tiki (2012) is the dramatisation of the Kon-Tiki expedition by Thor Heyerdahl and his crew, where they drifted from Peru to a small island in the Pacific to prove the islanders had come from the east. It’s a very well-known expedition and Heyerdahl is considered one of the great Norwegian explorers. The movie was made with great Holloywood-esque effects and a big budget.

Second: The critique. Many people, the families of the expedition members included, have come out in the press to say how the movie simply ignores the facts. This is perfectly true; the real expedition went far more smoothly than- to us regular folks- seems believable. Also, the movie version of Heyerdahl’s second-in-command, Herman Watzinger, is a completely fictional creation. No one disputes this.

Third: My point(s). Having written a whole master thesis on whether or not movies can tell history, I have developed a compulsion to comment on issues like this. My main problem is the fact that some people seem so upset about it, and others have had to defend the film quite rigorously. So, I thought I might throw my two cents in.

The families do feel cheated, and I understand that. However, it is precisely because they comment and the press write about it, that a majority of the movie-goes are enlightened about the issues. No one involved in the movie is insisting they stuck to the facts. They weren’t trying to rewrite history, they were trying to make an entertaining movie. And thanks to the journalists, historians and families, the rest of us can go the cinema with a pinch of salt in our back-pocket and still enjoy an adventure.

Too often, writers deploring “bad history” on film give the audience too little credit. I constantly come across the movie Braveheart listed as one of the worst offenders, but I have yet to meet anyone who contends they know anything about Scottish history because they’ve watched Mel Gibson in a kilt.

I don’t want to give the audience too much credit, of course, as there is a very long way to go from 13th century Scotland to the Pacific Ocean in the 20th. The Kon-Tiki movie both suffers and is vindicated by this fact. Because the expedition happened relatively recently, we have all the facts, both in writing and on film, and we have family members to speak of the crew. Anyone can easily check these facts and so we can say the movie is wrong. At the same time this means the movie generates a lot of publicity and people are more aware of what type of history they are watching. We can read the articles, or the words of Heyerdahl himself, and enjoy the movie for what it is.

I, for one, am glad they didn’t spend all that money on two hours of guys sitting on a raft. It’s an incredible achievement, to be sure, but for that we have Heyerdahl’s own documentary. This was marketed as, and can not be taken for anything other than an adventure film. It could be argued they should have changed the names, but that’s too deep a discussion to get into now.

An Annoyed Droid.