Rapa Nui (1994)



Director:     Kevin Reynolds. 

Starring:     Jason Scott Lee (Noro),  Esai Morales (Make),  Sandrine Holt (Ramana),  Eru Potaka-Dewes (Ariki-mau),  Emilio Tuki Hito (Messenger),  Gordon Hatfield (Riro),  Frenxa Reuben (Heke),  Hori Ahipene (Overseer),  Chiefy Elkington (Fisherman),  Ruihana Rewa (Old Woman),  George Henare (Tupa),  Rawiri Paratene (Priest),  Pete Smith (Priest),  Mario Gaia (Short Ears),  Cliff Curtis (Short Ears).

a love story set amidst civil war on Easter Island, Chile


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

"Some fifteen hundred years ago a small band of Polynesian voyagers discovered one of the most remote islands on the face of the earth and gave birth to a mystery that still endures.  The voyagers and their chief, Hotu Motu'a settled the lush little oasis and were lost to the rest of the world for the next thousand years.  Then on Easter Sunday, 1722 European sailors rediscovered the island and named it Easter Island.  The Europeans found a barren, treeless place inhabited by thousands of people divided into warring clans and the gigantic stone statues they had built over hundreds of years as a form of ancestor worship. The descendants of Hotu Motu'a called their island The Navel of the World, Rapa Nui, and centuries of total isolation had convinced them they were the only people left on earth.  To this day, no one knows exactly why the statues were so large, or why the work on them had suddenly ceased.  But island legend speaks of a terrible conflict between the clans a few decades before the Europeans arrived." 

The natives are pulling a large statue, known as a moai.  A young man named Noro plays in the surf.  Another young man tells Noro that the Ariki-mau wants to see him.  The Ariki wants his medicine man to tell him the truth, but Tupa says it's hard to read the bones today.  Noro arrives and the Ariki tells him that his cousin Epe fell to his death while training for the Birdman competition.  Now Noro must take his place.  At first Noro say no, but the Ariki says that there is no one else.  So Noro agrees to compete. 

Ariki goes out to examine the latest statue ready put in place with the others.  Ariki looks at it and says to build him another statue.  The men give out with a big groan.  He says it is too small and will not please the gods.  The men pull the statue over and let it fall face down. 

Noro goes over to see Ramana.  She is dancing with others around the fire.  Ramana sees him and leaves the celebration to talk with Noro.  Make comes looking for Ramana but does not find her.  He asks one of the women and she says he knows where she is, meaning with Noro.  This angers Make greatly. 

Noro asks Ramana to marry him.  She tells him they won't let her, a Short Ear, marry a Long Ear.  People already say that she just wants to be a Long Ear.   (The Short Ears are dominated by the Long Ears and are used as virtual slaves.)

Tupa tells the stone workers that they only have six moons in which to build their next moai.  The Ariki wants it finished before the bird man competition in the spring.  The master carver says it's far too little time.  Tupa asks him if he needs to find another master carver.  That shuts the builder up. 

Ramana comes back.  The Short Ears all stare at her in silence.  One man spits on the ground to indicate his disapproval.  Noro goes to speak to his grandfather the Ariki.  He says he wants to marry a Short Ear.  Grandfather becomes infuriated.  He asks Noro if he is following in his father's footsteps?  Noro says he's not like his father.  The Ariki says that he must atone for his father's sin.  The Ariki now wants to know the girl's name.  It's Ramana.  Granddad gets mad all over again.  Ramana is the daughter of the canoe builder Haoa, the man that the Ariki banished.  Noro says that he loves this woman, so Granddad says he will talk to his priest. 

The priest Tupa tells Noro that if he wins the birdman competition and if Ramana is purified by staying in the Virgin cave for six moons to make her skin lighter, he can marry her.  Noro goes to tell Ramana.  He finds her being punished by the other women dunking her under water.  Noro approaches them and the punishment stops.  The women all leave, except for Ramana.  Noro tells Ramana the good news, but says she has to be purified first.  He says he told them no.  But Ramana says she will do it.  Noro warns her that it is completely dark in the cave and you can hardly move.  Ramana says they think her love is not strong enough to do this.  She will prove them wrong. 

Ramana is lowered over a steep cliff in a basket.  Two men below help her into the cave. 

Noro goes to see Make.  During their childhoods, Noro, Make and Ramana were all friends.  Noro asks Make to help him train for the competition.  Make is not enthused.  Noro explains that the only way he can marry Ramana is if he wins the competition.  When Make learns that Ramana is now in the cave he becomes very angry.  He does not believe in the Easter Island gods.  Make is mad because there is no need for Ramana to be stuck in that horrid cave.  Noro finally realizes that Make loves Ramana too.  He mentions this and Make gets really angry.  He says he will no longer take any of Noro's Long Ear handouts and that they were never friends. 

Noro goes to the place of the competition.  He then goes to see Haoa who lives in a big, open cave by the sea.  Noro asks Haoa if he will train him, as Haoa trained his father for the competition.  But Haoa say no because, he says, Noro is too ignorant. 

Make comes to visit Ramana.  He gives her a sweet potato.  Makes asks her why can't she love her own kind?  They are both Short Ear.  Ramana tells him that you can't choose who you will fall in love with.  Make has to leave because Noro is coming to see Ramana.  Both men have been coming to see her at night.  It is Ramana's forty-fifth night. 

The day has arrived that all clans will announce their choices for the birdman competition.  They are Kahumea of the Marama clan, Pounatea of the Haumoana clan, Hinaioio of the Hamea clan, Makita of the Kotuu clan, Ngaara of the Ngatimo clan and Noroinia of the royal Miru clan.  

Make has to work hard on the side of a cliff carving out a new statue for the Ariki. 

Noro speaks with his grandfather.  He says that too many maus are having too many children and good land is turning to dust.  Noro thinks the problem is all the work put into the moai.  Grandfather gets irritated and tells him just to worry about the race. 

Tapu tells Heke the master builder that he is fired.  He is too behind schedule.  Rino is in charge now.  Rino now gives the command to hoist the statue up the cliff.  Heke had told Tapu that there is not enough rope.  The men sense that something is wrong when the blocks are removed from under the statue.  Soon it is apparent that the ropes can't hold the statue in place.  Heke commits suicide by standing in front of the statue that now slides down the cliff side.  All the Short-Ear men and some women descend on the Long-Ear village.  They say that they want more  -- more of everything.  They want half the crops and half of the wood for fuel.  And they want to compete in the bird man contest.  Tupa tells his warriors to kill the Short-Ears.  Noro intervenes saying that only the Short-Ears know how to build the moai.  Noro screams:  "Give them something!"  This impresses Ramana's father.  But the Ariki just asks: "Why?"  Noro answers because he see real danger in this little rebellion. 

The Ariki speaks to the Short-Ears. He will grant them what they asked for.  But the moai with a hat must be finished before the competition.  And if their competitor in the competition does not win, he will be sacrificed to the gods.  The people agree.  Make volunteers to compete in the contest.  He then asks that if they finish the statue and he wins the competions, then Ramana will be his bride.  The Ariki agrees.  Make glares at at Noro.  He then asks Haoa to train him for the competition.  Haoa says he can't because he already chose someone else.  Make starts his training as soon as he returns to his village. 

Haoa begins training Noro.  He puts an egg in a woven container and ties the container to Noro's forehead.  He says the egg must never break or he loses.  The idea of the competition is to swim out to a nearby bunch of rocks, find an egg of the sooty tern and race back.  First one back with an unbroken egg is the winner. 

Virtually the entire adult population of the Short-Ears work on the statue.  They quickly get it ready to be hoisted. 

Noro goes to see Ramana again. 

The statue is hoisted up.  Noro sees it standing and trains harder. 

Tapu speaks to Ariki saying that he should take over the supervision of Noro.  He will guide him in the right path. 

Noro goes to see the last tree on Easter Island.  It is the one on which he, Make and Ramana carved their names.  Noro sees Make and a bunch of Short-Ears coming toward him.  They are going to cut down the last tree.  Noro tries to stop them, but the Short-Ears just pull him out of the way.

Noro asks Haoa why his father left the island?  After all, there is no place to go.  All the other lands have sunk.  Haoa says his father was despondent when his wife died giving birth to Noro. And then one day in a tide pool he found this.  It is definitely a man-made object, perhaps something from a passing ship.  But Noro says it must be something from the sunken lands.  At night Noro goes to see Ramana. 

Perhaps like his father, Noro sees the birds flying overhead and asks where do they come from and where do they go?  

The maoi is finished.  A big celebration is held.   

The day of the competition arrives.  Everyone assembles by the cliff.  The White Virgin Ramana is brought out.  Noro tells the Ariki if he wins, granddad will step down from his position.  He says it's time for a new man.  The race begins.  One competitor  falls off a cliff and dies.  Another man slides down the grass cliff side until he reaches the bottom.  Noro falls behind, so he throws his basket into the ocean and then makes a very high dive into the water. 

The competitors reach the rocks and now run around frantically to find an egg.  A man finds an egg and shouts that he has it.  A bully hits the man in the face, breaks his arm and takes his egg.  Other competitors find eggs and they start jumping in the water for the return swim.  The people on the land see a shark coming and try to warn the men.  One of the fellows has a cut and the blood attracted the shark.  The shard grabs the bloodied man. 

Now the climb up the cliff begins.  Make starts falling behind and he throws a rock at Noro, but misses.   The two men both start throwing rocks at each other.  The bully grabs Noro's leg and won't let go.  Make gets ahead.  Noro has to bloody the man to get away from him.  The man falls. 

Make shows his egg and his people cheer for him.  But as he starts walking on top of the cliff he slips and falls.  Noro wins and he places the egg in the hand of Ramana.  The Ariki sees a huge white glacier that he thinks is the white rock he has been looking for as a sign of good things to come.  As Make sees Noro help Ramana up on her feet, he notices that she is very pregnant. 

Tupa comes for Make to be sacrificed.  He also tells the Short-Ears that they will build even bigger maoi and these will have beards.  As he is talking Make from behind shoves a spear all the way through Tupa's body.  He then kills the other Long-Ear guards.  They decide to attack the Long-Ears.  They take the Long-Ears by surprise and kill everyone they can get their hands on.  Make knocks out Noro from behind.  They then burn the Long-Ears.  Make comes over to Noro and the Short-Ears expect Make to kill him.  Noro tells him that Make has become what he sought to destroy.  Make spares his life because once they were friends. 

Now the Short-Ears tear down the maois.  The Short-Ears star throwing stones at Noro.  He manages to escap and run up to the rocks where he last left Ramana.  He shouts for her.  At the same time, Make also shouts for Ramana.  He finds two of his men practicing cannibalism of the dead bodies.  Noro comes down to see Haoa to ask for help in finding Ramana.  He then hears a baby cry.  He has a daughter now.  He is reunited with his Ramana.  Noro tells Haoa that now he understands why his father left.  Haoa says:  "Then you're ready for this."   All this time Haoa had been working on a boat for ocean travel.  He says it's a wedding gift.  Noro asks him to come with them, but Haoa says he's too old for that now.  The boat is even equipped with a sail.  

The trio gets into the boat.  Haoa says:  "Don't look back!"  They sail away. 


Good movie.  It shows some of the inequalities in Easter Island society that probably helped lead to the downfall of the civilization on the island.  It seems a bit ridiculous to have a fundamental difference established between Long-Ear and Short-Ear people.  But it's an old story.  One group prospers takes over another groups and makes them their slaves.  Then this social division is maintained by fear, prejudice, discrimination and force.   I read somewhere that probably the biggest reason for the decline of their civilization was that of an ecological disaster.  The discovered better techniques to use the land and took full advantage of the prosperity brought about by these changes.  But by using all the land and not knowing how to improve it once the land had been used repeatedly, the land failed them.  This brought tougher times and the clans started fighting each other.  In this kind of ecology and in the chaos the building and care of the statues could not go on.  Many of them fell and were broken. 

There is some nudity in the movie because the women go topless, but it's not an erotic use of nudity and it's not dwelt on.  It's not that big of a deal. 

Esai Morales was good at portraying the anger in his character's nature.  I thought the voice of the chief a little strange.  It was too soft and too much like a tenor in singing, but it's not that important. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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