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During King of Devil's Island (org.: Kongen av Bastøy) the former sailor Erling (C-19) tells a story to Olav (C-1) for writing down, about a ship crew hunting for a whale, which seems to be an allegory for their own situation in Bastøy. He starts to tell it when they are on forest duty with a third boy (forgive me for not recounting it word-accurate):

Olav: You ever seen whales?

Erling: I saw one which, hit by three harpoons, just swam away. It took three days till he was dead.

Olav: And my role in it?

Erling: Deck boy. And I'm the harpooner.

Later, during Olav's parole after six years and after the Warden's reluctance to say anything about Bråthen's deeds and his guilt in Ivar (C-5)'s suicide to the comittee, he develops it further:

Olav (reading): We were already weeks on the sea till I saw him again. Our supplies went short and Øystein, our cook, gave few reasons for praise. You should have seen how thin I was, fed up with the fish. We met the whale again, got very near, much nearer than before. The harpoon I hit him with had weakened him. He was huge, at least 25 metres, and he was laced with scars from endured fights.

Erling: The new deck boy he'd already killed, the poor guy. The captain was convinced very much of himself, but actually he was a cowardly bastard. The rest fo the crew feared him. One I know quite well, he's going to sign off soon. For six years he worked without blame or faults, now he wants to go on land again.

Which makes it clear that the captain symbolizes the Warden, whom I first thought to be the whale. Then the last part is told once they are put in isolation together with Øystein after attacking the reappearing Bråthen, who wasn't fired but continues to work at the institution as before:

Erling: Everywhere was only blood. He swallowed them before he died, the harpooner, the cook, and the deck boy. The whale swallowed them all three.

Olav: Then everything went its usual course. The captain became admiral...

Erling (laughing): ...got the command on a shabby tub and sailed to America.

Olav (laughing): The crew stood in line for sex, full with mackerels and herrings.

But at the end, after Olav escaped as the only one and ships by Bastøy again after some years passed, you hear a shortened version spoken by Erling from the off:

I saw a whale who, hit by three harpoons, just swam away. It took three days till he was dead. The harpoon I hit him with had weakened him, and he was laced with scars from all his endured fights. One I know quite well, he's going to sign off soon. For six years he worked without blame or faults, now he wants to go on land again.

Which gives a rather omptimistic ending again, at least for Olav. But while the roles of all the major characters in this story are rather clear to me, I'm not sure what to make out of the whale. Whom or what does the whale symbolize in this story? Does it maybe stand for Bastøy itself or something else?

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There are no sources from the director/screenwriter of this movie explaining the symbolism of the white whale. The symbolism of the whale is left up to viewer interpretation, much like Moby Dick. The white whale has historically symbolized obsession, madness and unattainable goals just to name a few.

I interpreted the white whale in this movie as Olav and his increasing rage and madness. His frustration manifesting itself into a need for revenge and rebellion.

Olav: You ever seen whales?

Erling: I saw one which, hit by three harpoons, just swam away. It took three days till he was dead.

Olav: And my role in it?

Erling: Deck boy. And I'm the harpooner.

Olav and Erling are introducing the viewers to the whale. The viewers are also seeing the atrocities happening at Bastøy. By Erling claiming to be the harpooner, he is proclaiming himself to be the instigator. Erling makes it clear that Olav is merely a helpmate.

Olav (reading): We were already weeks on the sea till I saw him again. Our supplies went short and Øystein, our cook, gave few reasons for praise. You should have seen how thin I was, fed up with the fish. We met the whale again, got very near, much nearer than before. The harpoon I hit him with had weakened him. He was huge, at least 25 metres, and he was laced with scars from endured fights.

Erling: The new deck boy he'd already killed, the poor guy. The captain was convinced very much of himself, but actually he was a cowardly bastard. The rest fo the crew feared him. One I know quite well, he's going to sign off soon. For six years he worked without blame or faults, now he wants to go on land again.

The boys were going through the mundane routine at Bastøy. Rage and madness have reared it's head. Rebellion was close. Notice Olav read the part of the harpooner, meaning rebellion was thwarted for the time being. I don't believe Erling is speaking of the whale at all here. I believe this is strictly talk of the captain and Olav's fear of him.

Erling: Everywhere was only blood. He swallowed them before he died, the harpooner, the cook, and the deck boy. The whale swallowed them all three.

Olav: Then everything went its usual course. The captain became admiral...

Erling (laughing): ...got the command on a shabby tub and sailed to America.

Olav (laughing): The crew stood in line for sex, full with mackerels and herrings.

This is obviously explaining the attack on Bråthen and the revenge and rebellion that it represents. I interpret the swallowing of the harpooner and the deck boy as Olav and Erling being satisfied with their revenge for the time being.

I saw a whale who, hit by three harpoons, just swam away. It took three days till he was dead. The harpoon I hit him with had weakened him, and he was laced with scars from all his endured fights. One I know quite well, he's going to sign off soon. For six years he worked without blame or faults, now he wants to go on land again.

This is symbolism of Olav's rage and madness being quelled. He is putting Bastøy and the events that happened there behind him. This is meant both literally and symbolically. The quote is being heard in the movie as Olav is physically sailing past Bastøy.

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