Suicide. It’s a subject that touches many people and leaves a tremendous and harsh impact on so many lives. It’s an issue that is today so rampant in modern society, but which is still not readily addressed. But a new documentary drama from clinical psychologist turned filmmaker Paora Joseph desires to fix that and to show that even in the darkest of moments hope can indeed shine through.
Part drama, part documentary, Māui’s Hook is an engaging piece of cinema that shines a light on an issue that is right at the very heart of contemporary New Zealand culture. This issue is suicide and Joseph confronts it head on in a personal journey of healing, understanding and compassion.
Using the stories of five real life families who are struggling with the heartache of having lost a loved one to suicide, as well as a unique dramatic twist of a young man confronting his own anger, depression and sorrow, Māui’s Hook sinks its audience into a very heavy cinematic experience.
Charting a six day journey of healing known as a hikoi wairua (spiritual journey), Joseph showcases each of the families lives and how suicide has robbed them of a loved one who was so dear to them. It’s a journey that takes audiences across the very breadth of the North Island starting in the historical village of Parihaka, before continuing through the flooded Whanganui region and traveling upwards through the upper North Island before finally finishing up at the very edge of Cape Reinga. Thematically it’s a journey whose outline creates that of a hook, a symbolic image of the god Maui, who according to Maori legend raised the North Island out of the sea with his magical fishing hook and gave it the name Te Ika-a-Māui.
As a practicing clinical psychologist Joseph has had a lot of experience dealing with the subject of suicide and here he confronts it head on. Throughout the film haunting messages appear across the screen displaying some pretty sobering facts related to New Zealand’s suicide problem and they leave you gripped by fear and sorrow as you come to realize how big this problem is.
But this is not a blame game and while suicide does create a range of diverse emotions in those that it affects, Joseph, through this hikoi, creates a portrait of these families and their loved one who tragically took their own life, to show that these were real people and that they were struggling with very real problems when they sadly took their own lives. Through this journey he works to help these families come to terms with their loss and move the conversation away from ‘what could we have done’ to instead a position of ‘how can we work together to help us heal ourselves’.
In realizing Māui’s Hook for the cinema Joseph also breaks away from the confines of the documentary genre and brings a unique and confronting dramatic angle to the film with the presence of Tama played by a remarkable Niwa Whatuira who is a young man struggling with his own demons and who becomes the audiences companion as they move through the various points of the hikoi. Whatuira’s performance is a particularly haunting one to watch, especially his interactions with Hine-nui-te-pō, the Maori goddess of death, played by Hera Foley who is trying to call him away from this world.
What this narrative element brings to this film is to make it contemporary and to make it accessible for a larger audience throughout New Zealand. With a dramatic hook such as this the film’s narrative feels much more immediate, and it really builds up your emotions as to Tama’s fateful decision.
While you come to understand that New Zealand has a haunting problem with suicide after watching Māui’s Hook, Joseph also presents a solution and its a simple one: let’s talk about it.
Through the power of conversation and honesty he shows that we can come to work through these problems even though we may not get a definitive answer. His belief is that the healing and the answers to this problem can be found in their discussion and you see it played out here.
For myself as a New Zealander I found the film to be a very confronting and dramatic call to arms on a problem that I did not know was so out of control. The film is an emotional rollercoaster and there are moments where its easy to be overwhelmed with the sadness and heartbreak that these ordinary New Zealand families have suffered and that could easily affect your own life.
But as with every journey the film does draw to an end and with that it brings an immense sense of possibility and hope. This message shows that the best way we can deal with this problem is to keep on living, to enjoy the good times and work together to overcome the bad times and that by offering to simply talk about this problem we may in the end find a solution.
Māui’s Hook is without-a-doubt the most poignant film that I have watched all year and I highly encourage everyone to see it. It has its own voice and a distinctive message that needs to be heard. It will be featured as a part of this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival and will have it’s world premiere on July 21. Tickets are available here.