A film designed both to inform and affect, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary, “Blackfish,” uses the tragic tale of a single whale and his human victims as the backbone of a hypercritical investigation into the marine-park giant SeaWorld Entertainment. By following the story of one whale, Tilikum, the audience feels an emotional connection and understanding to the film, and therefore is much more invovled. I saw the film three times in theaters and again for class purposes and each time am just as stunned as I had previously been. It is hard for me to call the film a documentary, because it’s put together such as a thriller may be. By following the distressing story of Tilikum, we truly see a psychological thriller in formation.

Ms. Cowperthwaite certainly makes her case for the whales very clear, and we are given a (semi-biased) negative understanding of the sea-world park, who denied interviews for the film. Through the rueful voices of former trainers and whale experts, a narrative driven by disillusion and regret unfolds as the trainers point to a gap between SeaWorld’s public image and behind-the-scenes reality. It is hard to watch and see something that when I was younger was so magical, yet with knowledge comes an understanding of darkness. Such themes are seen in many narratives films but to be able to connect on such a level as this was much more moving. Truly the magic of SeaWorld was crushed by this film.

The archival footage in the film is undeniably painful to watch: “bleeding whales, flanks raked by the teeth of their fellow captives; a trainer crushed between two gigantic beasts with only his wet suit holding him together; another trainer dragged repeatedly to the bottom of a pool until he manages to escape.”

Most difficult for me was watching the whales being taken away from their mothers at a young age. We watch for a disturbing long period of time the mothers wailing for their children at a pitch higher than any human ear can perceive for hours floating on their back.

“If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little psychotic?” Is a quote given by one of the many trainers interviewed in the film. It is an analogy that shouldn’t be taken lightly, considering these whales are meant to be in thousands of miles of open area and instead are confined to cages. Calmly and methodically countering SeaWorld’s contention that whales benefit from captivity. The film itself definitely changed my perspective enough to have signed a petition and follow the blogs on the SeaWorld vs. Blackfish case. If goal of a documentary is to change the viewer’s perspective in a greater societal way, they met their goal.


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