Movie Reflection: In the Heart of the Sea – Relation to Morality and I-O Psychology



During December 2015, I watched In the Heart of The Sea with my wife and her side of the family. The movie stars Chris Hemsworth and is about the sinking of the whaling ship Essex, which inspired the novel Moby Dick. As a theology and I-O psychology (if you don’t know what I-O psychology is, read up on it here) nerd, I process essentially everything through these two lenses. So, of course, when I watched this movie there were some very interesting things that I saw with my I-O psychology and theology eyes. Below is a brief, “stream of consciousness” reflection of this movie that I wrote in my phone after watching the movie in 2015 that I want to share. Please note that this is a reflection and not a review, also that there may be some spoilers!


One of the first things I noticed was that the lead character, Chase, was a man of his word (integrity). Through the struggles of being abandoned at sea, he understood that man was a mere speck, dust in the grand scheme of things (see Psalm 8:3-5 and 103:14). From the beginning of the movie it was clear that Chase despised lying.

One of his quotes from the movie was, “A liars word is worthless even on paper.”

After returning home from being shipwrecked, the people wanted the survivors to lie about their account in front of the inquirers. Chase refused to lie and said he would stick to the truth. This influenced the captain of the ship (who had an influential blood line) to change from a lie to the truth. Clearly, Chase’s light shined and impacted others (see Matthew 5:14-16).


I-O Psychology

Having (at the time of watching this movie in 2015) just completed a leadership and motivation seminar and sharing these topics with my wife, my eyes were open to the leadership aspects throughout the movie. For context, the people on the ship had a goal of returning home with numerous barrels of whale oil. There was a team and different positions of leadership. One guy was captain because of his influential bloodline (how people sometimes ascend to top positions in organizations – power of association) and Chase was essentially second in command (first mate) although he was qualified to be the captain (and slighted of this position). Most others on the boat were like lower-level employees who were all working in a team.

In terms of motivation and leadership theory, I drew a comparison between top leadership and second in command. Chase (like a middle manager) was able to provide more effective leadership by way of transformational and authentic leader behaviors whereas the captain did not. Specially, Chase inspirationally motivated the team based on the goal, utilized idealized influence as a man people looked up to and wanted to follow, intellectual stimulation by challenging his team and wanting to constantly train with them, and individualized consideration by getting down and talking to others and helping out those in need (e.g., young man who was telling the story to the book writer – his sea sickness example). The captain, on the other hand, did not present many characteristics of effective leadership. He did, however, initiate structure, but he lacked in the relational (consideration) component that the literature identifies as extremely important. Nevertheless, it was cool to see the group members grow with the captain in times of struggle because he had to build relationships with them. He even demonstrated aspects of self-sacrificing leadership as he was going to kill himself so others could eat after drawing lots.

The Lord led my wife and I to the below Scriptures on the night that we watched this movie:

24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
    In wisdom have you made them all;
    the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Here is the sea, great and wide,
    which teems with creatures innumerable,
    living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
    and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.

(Psalm 104:24-26)