“The deepest wisdom of the race has said that manhood shall be won through pain.”
A Polynesian youth named Moana prepares to marry his mate by undergoing a series of rituals.
Robert Flaherty’s commissioned follow-up to his groundbreaking documentary Nanook of the North (1922) was this similarly episodic look at the lives of natives in a land still largely free from Western influences. As with Nanook, Flaherty took great liberties with his storyline, deliberately recruiting actors to play family members, and requesting that a painful, lengthy, recently outdated tattooing ritual be revived for the purposes of filming. Overall, Moana remains a less fulfilling documentary than Nanook, primarily because of a problem Flaherty himself hadn’t anticipated: the Polynesians weren’t engaged in the same kind of man-against-nature survival tactics as their Arctic counterparts. Indeed, their only “enemy” appears to be wild boar. While it’s fun to see Moana and his brother spearfishing and shimmying up coconut trees, and women neatly creating fabric from pulp, these isolated scenes in and of themselves don’t create much dramatic tension. F.W. Murnau’s overtly fictional Tabu (1931) offers a much more nuanced variation on the same theme, and is my recommended pick as “must-see” instead.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- An intriguing (albeit semi-fictionalized) look at Polynesian culture
No, though it’s worth a look simply for its historical status as one of Flaherty’s earliest films. Listed as a film with Historical relevance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.