If you’re looking for a film for the family this Christmas season, I suggest the 1956 classic, “Moby Dick.”
It’s based on the literary classic by Herman Melville. Professor Jessica Hooten writes: “If there is one book that every American should read, it is Moby Dick. Herman Melville’s 1851 novel is our American epic.”
Set on the island of Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts, the characters set sail on a turbulent course filled with raging winds and raging battles of good vs. evil, anchored around Ahab, the captain of the whaling ship the Pequod. Ahab becomes consumed with vice—an unhealthy obsession for vengeance upon a whale that bit off his leg years earlier. As first-mate Starbuck laments, it is unholy madness for a man to be so enraged and consumed with a stupid beast—to the point where the captain jeopardizes the lives of the men under his care.
The dangers to come are prophesied in a chilling moment near the ship prior to launch, when a passerby named Elijah warns the principal protagonist, Ishmael, of the horrible calamities to come.
The story is filled with Christian metaphors and allegory, commencing with its very first words, “Call me Ishmael.” The climax, portrayed vividly on-screen, comes with a dead, beaten, bloody, scourged Captain Ahab strapped and tied to the beast, arms out-stretched, crucified. But crucified for what? The harpoon-wielding Ahab died first and foremost for his own faults, pierced for his own transgressions. By Ahab’s stripes, no one was healed.
A current edition of the book, which I found at Barnes & Noble, runs over 600 pages. The movie can be taken in much quicker. Directed by the great John Huston, it stars Gregory Peck—tremendous as Ahab—and includes a stirring cameo by Orson Welles. The movie seems commendably faithful to the text. Too often in film today, the religious dimension gets deep-sixed, but not here.
This is the season when we have time off with the family, when we watch movies. Check out the 1956 version of “Moby Dick.”
For Catholic Exchange.com and Ave Maria Radio, I’m Paul Kengor.