Michael Kingley, a successful, retired businessman, has returned home to Australia to iron out some business issues and to reconnect with his family.
Particularly with his granddaughter, Maddie. You see, Maddie lost her mother (Michael’s daughter) when she was a young girl. And her years since then have been difficult. She doesn’t get along with her father, and she’s vehemently against his plans to use the family company to turn vital farmland into corporate dollars.
Maddie begs her grandfather—who’s surrendered his control of the company to her father—to do something. And so he does—but it’s not what she’s expecting. Instead of launching into action to stop the plan, Michael tells his granddaughter a story. His story. A story about the weight of loss and the necessity of connection.
You see, as a young boy, Michael was raised on an isolated coastline by his father after his own mother died. Amid his isolation and grief, Michael stumbles upon three young pelicans in need of a caretaker after their mother is cruelly shot by capricious hunters.
And just like that, his life is changed forever.
Michael forms a deep bond with his fish-eating friends: Mr. Proud, Mr. Ponder and Mr. Percival. It’s a bond that promises renewed hope, inescapable sorrow and a past that is ever-present.
Young Michael is a tender, compassionate, kind boy. Growing up on a secluded beach that humans avoid and pelicans love, the boy makes the most of things. For him, that meant playing with the birds, exploring on his own. He shows himself to be responsible and tenderhearted, capable of big love.
As he wanders alone along the beach, Michael meets a caring older man named Fingerbone Bill. He’s an Aboriginal Australian whose own struggles have forced him into isolation as well. Bill and Michael both treat each other kindly, striking up a friendship and deep trust (that Michael’s dad eventually comes to share as well).
It’s evident that Michael’s father, while he has difficulty expressing emotion, truly loves his boy. Michael’s father also makes difficult decisions, some that Michael does not fully understand until he is an elderly man.
And those same decisions give Michael wisdom when his granddaughter, Maddie, struggles with her own set of issues with her father. As a young girl, Maddie lost her mother. Now, she’s left to live with a father who is deeply vested in his business. So much so that he and his daughter have a fractured relationship and do not see eye to eye on much of anything.
Michael understands his granddaughter’s anger. But he also sagely encourages her to seek reconciliation with her father. Michael admits that his greatest regret in life is living in anger and choosing to leave his own relationship with his dad in shambles.
As Michael shares the story of his past with Maddie, he is reminded of his own dreams and passions, his own desire to do the right thing instead of giving in to expediency.
Fingerbone Bill tells Michael multiple tribal stories about the significance of land and how, according the Aboriginal lore, pelicans were once people. Because of that, the birds are treated with special reverence and awe. And the killing of a bird, Bill says, always portends a mighty oceanic storm in response.
Bill performs a few tribal dances to encourage the birds to fly. He also takes time to “talk” to the earth, grasping and releasing handfuls of sand into the wind.
A man goes shirtless a few times.
Multiple gun shots are heard as hunters shoot pelicans from the sky, and their dead bodies lay strewn and bloody on the sand. One angry hunter threatens young Michael, telling him to watch his back. [Spoiler Warning] Later, that same hunter vindictively shoots a beloved pelican from the sky, a scene that will likely provoke tears from virtually anyone watching the film, but especially young and sensitive children.
In an effort to save baby pelicans, Michael grinds up dead fish to feed the birds. Blood and guts fly onto a window and all over a boy and his friend. Blood is seen at the bottom of multiple fish pails.
We learn that Michael’s mother and sister were killed in a car accident (nothing in shown) and that, later, Michael’s own daughter passes away (shown in the quick flash of a funeral).
Michael’s father gets knocked overboard in a perilous storm.
God’s name is misused four times; Jesus’ name gets abused twice. “H—” is uttered three times and “heck” once. The British vulgarity “p-ss off” is heard once. A man exclaims, “For heaven’s sake!”
A few men drink a glass or two of hard liquor. A granddaughter offers her grandfather some liquor in his coffee cup. Hunters throw their empty beer cans into the ocean.
Michael’s father is, in many ways, a hardened man. It’s clear that the loss of his wife and daughter have just about undone him. He’s retreated to his simple home on an isolated beach instead of ever truly reckoning with his grief. Michael’s father doesn’t trust people, telling Fingerbone Bill, “Sometimes I think it’s best not to have anyone to care about, that way you don’t get hurt.”
Eventually, Michael’s father forces the boy to leave and attend a boarding school. While Michael’s father believes this to be the best thing for his son (and it probably is), the decision is deeply traumatizing to young Michael. It leaves him angry for many years, we hear. That plot point, combined with the deaths of several family members (offscreen) and pelicans (as mentioned above), make this a story full of separation and loss. Thus, parents of children who are dealing with issues of loss themselves (perhaps especially adoptive and foster families) will want to preview Storm Boy before taking their children to it.
An angry protestor holds up a sign accusing a corporation of “land rape.”
An angry teen girl yells at her grandfather in frustration (calling him “gutless”) and says that she “hates” her own father. A group of teenage girls sneer at a fellow classmate.
Based on the 1964 Australian children’s book by Colin Thiele, Storm Boy weaves a captivating tale about a boy and his birds. It’s a bittersweet story that will pull out tears and smiles. It’s heartwarming and sweet and wonderful. You may find yourself wanting to be a child again as Michael plays in the sand and loses himself in his wild imagination.
But with joy comes loss and grief, and that idyllic experience on the beach is ultimately challenged by harsh realities that he (and his father) must face. As Michael says, “Any story that’s good has to go wrong before it gets better.”
Michael suffers several real, tangible losses throughout the film (as do others). For children or adults who have ever suffered great loss, this story may uncover some painful emotions.
That said, the story does not end on a sad note, but a redemptive one. In fact, we’re encouraged to understand how even difficult moments can be used for good, accomplishing purposes years and decades down the road that we never could have imagined.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).