MOVIE REVIEW | Blackfish (2013)

In 1983, a two year old killer whale was captured off the coast of Iceland.  Named Tilikum, he went on to be the star attraction at small, rinky dink water park, before making the jump to the big leagues at SeaWorld.  Over the next 20 odd years, Tilikum would be involved in the deaths of three people, and not all at once.  Why would a water park keep letting trainers work with a wild animal that has already killed?  Trying to answer that question is what makes Blackfish such a compelling documentary.

Blackfish opens with a series of 911 calls reporting the death of person at SeaWorld.  Hearing someone say, in all seriousness, that a trainer has been “eaten by a killer whale” really is a surreal and jarring moment.  It then goes into a series of interviews and talking heads with former SeaWorld trainers, all talking about their early days at the park.  Through their happy memories, it’s impossible to forget the traumatic event reported in the opening moments.  That lurking tragedy puts a deliberate edge on all their fond reminiscing.

The only thing more mind blowing than these incidents of whale attacks, is the fact that so many of them were captured on film.  One trainer claims there have been around 70 attacks in waterparks, and Blackfish seems to have found footage of most of them.  With so many incidents occurring, and so many of them caught on tape, the biggest question this moves raises is, how has it taken until 2013 for someone to make this documentary?

While SeaWorld officials argue in the courts about why trainers should still be allowed in the water with the killer whales, Blackfish goes deeper looking for the real cause of the accident.  The trainer didn’t die because she was in the tank with an orca, she died because a theme park captured and kept a wild animal in what is basically a tiny prison cell.

One of the most impressive things about Blackfish is director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s ability to get her talking heads openly admitting to doing some pretty horrible things.  One talks about tying rocks to whales to make them sink to the bottom of the ocean and drown.  Another talks about the tiny pen in which he made three whales spend two thirds of their lives when not performing.  And while the camera never judges these people, it captures them in just the right way so you can see they’ve already judged themselves and are trying to figure out how live with their mistakes.

I can’t imagine many people watching Blackfish and still thinking it’s OK to go to a waterpark like SeaWorld.  Of course this movie has an agenda and has very clearly picked a side in this argument, but it’s hard to deny the massive amounts of evidence proving these animals are victims of animal cruelty.  I would have liked to get at little more of an apposing opinion though.  I 100% believe everything this movie is telling me, but the clear bias is still a little off putting.

Blackfish has been shortlisted for an Oscar and will almost definitely get a nomination, and that makes perfect sense.  It ticks all other boxes of a great doc.  Important issue, compelling story and acts that are at the same time both totally relatable and totally bat shit insane.

Directed By – Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Written By – Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Eli B Despres

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