Memory can be a funny thing. The other day, while scrolling through the choices on Disney+, I noticed a long-forgotten film, Shipwrecked (1990). I remembered virtually nothing about the film. The title does kind of give away some of the story, though that does not happen until nearly the halfway point. I do recall the kid, and that there was a girl. Oh, and Gabriel Byrne. His swarthy visage came readily to mind when thinking about this film. For whatever reason, I had it fixed that this was the first movie I saw in the theaters without my parents. We had moved from the Chicago area to the Orlando area, and I thought that I had seen it with my one new neighborhood friend. Then again, I was ten years old at the time, and I cannot imagine my mom allowing me to go unescorted somewhere so public. Yet, there is an image of me being picked up, or dropped off (my parent’s car in front of the cinema anyway), and nothing of either of them in a seat next to me. Oh well. The only other aspect of this partial recollection is enjoying the movie. As you read this review, please keep in mind my stated age at that time.
I mentioned there is a kid in Shipwrecked, but we actually start in 1859 with Gabriel Byrne’s character, John Merrick. He is stalking an officer of the British navy near the London docks, and takes his uniform before murdering him. And scene. Now we get to our star, Haakon Haakonson (Stian Smestad), a Norwegian lad whose father is thought to be lost at sea. This is causing a lot of problems for Haakon’s family since their main breadwinner is gone, and for him personally as other children bully him because of his missing dad. One of these problems is solved when an injured Haakonson senior (Eva von Hanno) materializes on the family farm. He arrives with a gift for his son: a commission to be a cabin boy on the ship on which he once served, just what any nineteenth century kid would want! Haakon turns it down initially, but when he sees his family’s farm about to be sold to pay debts, he volunteers to go to sea for two years to cover the fees. The next day, Haakon departs with Jens (Trond Peter Stamsø Munch), a family friend and dad’s former shipmate, for their first voyage. After a trial period between Norway and London, and a little bit of hazing, the captain (Kjell Stormeon) officially accepts Haakon as part of the crew. From London, their next stop will be Sydney, Australia, before going on to Calcutta, India. Because they will be sailing through waters known to be full of pirate activity, the captain has decided to bring on an officer of the British navy for help in navigating their treacherous course. Who else would it be than John Merrick disguised as a lieutenant. During their trek to the other side of the world, Haakon uncovers weapons in the cargo hold that he believes should not be a part of their inventory. This is not the only strange occurrence, at least from Haakon’s point of view. We also witness Merrick arranging to have the captain poisoned. When the boat’s leader dies, it makes Merrick the de facto person to fill this role. After stopping briefly in Sydney, where Merrick brings on extra hands that he says are for pirate defense, they hurriedly depart. These other crewmembers are not the only ones to come aboard. Haakon discovers a young girl named Mary (Louisa Milwood-Haigh) in the ship’s hold. She has stowed away to avoid being made an orphan, hoping to make it to Calcutta where she has an uncle. Haakon, with Jens’ help, agrees to keep the matter a secret, which puts them at risk since doing so is breaking maritime law. When the matter is discovered by Merrick, who is already making himself unpopular with the original crew, the penalty is to be forty lashes with the cat o’ nine tails. Jens initially steps forward to take responsibility, but Haakon cannot bear to have his friend be punished, so he admits his guilt. Before any of the blows land, a brewing storm overtakes the ship and it is smashed against the rocks. Haakon saves Mary, but is separated from the rest and ends up washing ashore on a deserted island. Conveniently, this happens to be where Merrick, who is actually a pirate, has hidden his treasure, and his raison d’être for impersonating a Royal navy officer to get to this location. Haakon finds the stash during his exploration, along with a newspaper clipping revealing Merrick’s true identity, and realizes that one day the buccaneer will be back for his valuables. To prepare, he sets a number of booby traps around the island. He is also bolstered when he spots smoke on a nearby island, and it turns out to be Jens and Mary being taken care of by a groups of Pacific Island native peoples. No sooner does he link up with them, however, that Merrick and his men arrive at the island with a new ship. Problematic, too, is the fact that most of Haakon’s traps do not work. Still, with Jens’ and Mary’s help, he is able to free his old shipmates being held prisoner, sneak the treasure aboard Merrick’s ship, and beat him back to the boat. With one well-aimed cannon shot, Merrick’s dinghy is blown to smithereens, and Haakon can return to Norway. He does so not only with a new deed to the family farm, but with a special surprise for his family: Mary has come along, too.
Haakon’s justification for bringing Mary home at the end of Shipwrecked is that she needed some place to stay. Then again, when your son turns up after being away for so long with trunks full of gold and posterity covered, I guess one does not argue. What I find more interesting is how Haakon reacts to being alone on an island after the sinking of the ship. Catholicism has a long tradition of hermits going back centuries, which is essentially what you would call someone in Haakon’s situation. If his attitude seems strange, whether or not he wanted a hermitage, keep in mind that sailors of this day and age were prepared for these possible scenarios. That is why you do not seem him blabbering on in a “woe is me” attitude about being stranded. Instead, he makes the most of it. Catholic hermits, or those of other faiths, do the same thing. Haakon would not have chosen this outcome, but he thrives by himself. There are times when God calls upon us to be on our own. Sometimes it is by choice, while others are the result of circumstance. No matter what, solitude can have purpose. Like Haakon’s various traps, prayer is preparation. It is designed to orient the soul towards God, and a life of eternity with Him. There are no particular Christian messages in the film, but getting to Heaven is a treasure in and of itself. Haakon is able to come away from his adventure richer because he made the most of what was handed him. It is a good way to approach life and our Faith.
I have made Shipwrecked sound a lot better than what it is if you view it. To an adult, it would come off as silly. To a ten-year-old kid, it is the adventure of a lifetime. In any case, it does not have any material in it that would cause me to warn against watching it. However goofy it might be in certain places, I will take it over Windfall any day, and twice on Sundays.