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Writer Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) comes to Nantucket to find the last living sailor of a doomed whaling voyage spanning two oceans and nearly two years. Legend has it the disaster was caused by a giant white whale that not only defended its pod by attacking the ship, but also took vengeance on the survivors over a number of weeks as they tried to make their way in lifeboats toward land. In the decades since, the sole survivor and youngest member of the crew, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) has never discussed the dark memories that drove him to drink. Melville gets him to talk, and the flashbacks begin with whaler Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) going to sea as the first mate of the Essex, captained by the less-experienced, but better-connected George Pollard (Benjamin Walker).