Movie Review: “Blackfish” – Uncovering Hidden Depths

Written by Emily McWilliams September 08, 2013

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On February 24, 2010, Dawn Brancheau, an experienced trainer at SeaWorld Orlando, died when she was dragged into a performance pool by the park’s bull whale, Tilikum.  “Blackfish” uses this tragic incident as a springboard to expose SeaWorld’s health and safety policies when it comes to their trainers and the highly intelligent marine mammals they put on display for entertainment purposes.  Using interviews from numerous former SeaWorld trainers, as well as court transcripts from a lawsuit that followed after Brancheau’s death, “Blackfish” dives into the deep and complicated history of SeaWorld and similar parks and poses a moral question to viewers – is it ethical to keep mammals as advanced as whales in captivity?

“Never capture what you can’t control”

“Blackfish” equally focuses its attention on the compelling stories of the former trainers who agreed to speak out against SeaWorld and the emotional history of Tilikum.  The trainers’ commentary and insight is honest and incredibly revealing about SeaWorld’s policies when it came to hiring, the health of the animals, and the many cover-ups that occurred during their employments.  The human testimony in this film serves to paint a complete picture of Tilikum in terms of his personality and behaviour; in addition to testimony from his former trainers, scientists who specialize in whales debunk common misconceptions of Orcas (many of which are propagated by SeaWorld themselves).

Comprehensive insight and new information

In many ways, “Blackfish” tells us what I think many people already know – that whales, dolphins, and other marine animals should not be kept in captivity in any capacity.  Similar to the 2009 documenatry “The Cove”, “Blackfish” sheds light on these animals that most people really know little about.  The message of this documentary is simple and straightforward: the intelligence and emotional capacity of whales is superior to almost every mammal on the planet, including humans in some regards.  To take them from their natural environments and families sets these creatures up for a lifetime of physical and psychological strain that often results in frustration and violence.  The film does not place blame on any one person or action in the case of Brancheau’s death, but rather systematically shows each step that causes normally peaceful whales to lash out at humans.

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A must-see documentary

“Blackfish” is a shorter documentary that uses every frame to uncover a complicated history of both whales and the human trainers at SeaWorld.  An expert compilation of interviews, stock footage, and animations make this a fascinating watch from start to finish that will definitely confront some viewers with an emotional punch.

My Rating: 8/10

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