I’m not much of a sailor, despite having spent significant time on sailboats. I mean, if someone points to a line, I can raise a sail, but I’m more effective as the designated deck sitter – preferably with beverage in hand.
Still, I have great affection for sailing and the lessons, both specific and abstract, it can teach.
Sailing is about more than being able to tie a sailor knot or knowing how to read the wind. It’s about learning to be self-sufficient and focused. It’s about harnessing wind and sea while never failing to respect their power.
It’s no wonder so many filmmakers have gone to sea.
Despite the significant challenges involved in shooting a sailing movie, filmmakers have long been attracted to the potential for drama and ready metaphors the subject matter provides. Here are a few favorites.
WHITE SQUALL (1996): Playing a captain who uses the sea as the ultimate classroom for troubled boys, Kurt Russell embodies much of what is virtuous about sailing and the sea. But this movie is about much more. It’s about how those lessons are applied in real situations and how the sea can change lives forever – for better or worse.
DEAD CALM (1989): A true horror story, this drama stars Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman, who rescue Billy Zane, the lone survivor of a tragedy at sea. He, being less grateful than one might expect, repays them with shocking violence and deceits. Bear in mind, this all happens in the close confines of a sailboat sitting on a silent sea. It makes for a tough and surprisingly dynamic thriller.
KNIFE IN THE WATER (1962): Many compare Dead Calm’s sinister sense of style – as well as some significant story points – to this film. Noted director Roman Polanski’s first film – and the only movie he made in his native Poland – is about a couple who pick up a young drifter and allow him to accompany them on a sailing trip. From there, the relationships shift and change, becoming a battle of intellect, will and desire. It’s strong stuff.
THE PERFECT STORM (2000): This is a movie that succeeds because it manages to balance significant special effects with the relatively small story of a group of men faced with an impossible situation. The fact that the Hollywood wizardry never detracts from the difficult decisions and questions of survival and mortality says a lot about this film.
CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS (1937): Based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling, this Hollywood classic stars the always magnetic Spencer Tracy as a Portuguese sea captain who rescues a spoiled heir. Rather than take him to shore, he takes him on as a member of his crew and in the process, both learn something about what it means to truly be a man.