Film Review: Blackfish

Even though it’s a documentary, Blackfish has been on my list of “movies” to watch virtually since it was released in 2013. Essentially focusing on the effects of keeping wild animals (in this case Orca Killer Whales) captive, Blackfish attempts to outline the psychological effects on the animals this imprisonment has, as well as, a wider debate about the way the animals are used for entertainment and the safety of training them to perform.

There can be no question that, whether embellishing the truth or not, Blackfish has had a direct and sizable impact on its main target – Seaworld. I need to point out, however, that whilst I try and keep an open mind, try to just watch without prejudice and review without bias, my own personal opinions will, of course, cloud my thoughts. I have never been to Seaworld. I don’t actually agree with zoos either because I don’t believe that taking wild animals and putting them on display is an acceptable thing to do. Or a fun day out. But I do eat meat and I’ve kept domesticated animals as pets, so I fully accept I may appear hypocritical in my choices.

Orca Seaworld Entertainment - Blackfish

Because I have so little interest in places like Seaworld I knew nothing about the story, or what to expect beforehand. I didn’t even realise they have more than one venue and I think, like a lot of people, I just assumed they were driven more by aquatic conservation and research – with the entertainment side used to help fund it – than the actual, simple, exploitation it is portrayed as. It was a total shock to discover that “trainers” are picked for their presenting skills rather than technical knowledge and that behind the scenes, the science I believed could be used to justify it all is non-existent. I found it bizarre to see that this was as superficial as commercially driven TV. It’s Saturday night reality TV but staring 10-tonne wild animals we don’t fully understand, where money and revue dictate above all else.

Blackfish is put together by stitching interviews with a handful of former trainers to home/archive footage of the whales in captivity to tell it’s story and drive the narrative. The first thing that became obvious quickly was that the group of interviewees felt cherry picked. They felt opinionated and in line with the film makers own agenda. They were obviously talking with direct experience, but it didn’t feel balanced and too often, when they’d highlight an issue, or raise a point, it’d be about their colleges rather than directly about themselves. People not there, not offering their counter viewpoint. The best example of this is of an incident involving a trainer called Ken Peters which is examined in great detail and debated with great opinion about the failings that caused it. But Peters isn’t interviewed, or mentioned if he declined to comment, and this just left me uneasy towards the documentary as a whole. Everything is tinted and when focussing on the people and the timeline, it never felt prepared to offer a balancing argument.

Killer Whale (Orca) In The Wild - Blackfish

It’s got it’s target and it’s relentless in the attacks it takes.

There can, however, be no argument that the real power and empathy in the documentary is towards the Orca’s. I just sat there feeling sadder and sadder for them. Whether stolen from the wild, or born in captivity, it is obvious that they are suffering in the confines enforced upon them. In fact, the real power I found in Blackfish wasn’t in the mudslinging at corporations like Seaworld but rather, in how it showed the psychological science and distress of the animals so clearly. When you see the comparative footage of them in the wild, swimming in social groups, working as a community and then their captive kin, enclosed and fighting, the visual difference in personality, in happiness and in the relaxation really does, whether you agree with zoos or not, break your heart. I never came close to crying, or even getting really angry, but I just kept thinking “why can’t people see how wrong this is?” whilst, inside, I just kept feeling a longing desire to see them free. I just wanted them to be happy and not exploited.

For me, Blackfish spent too long criticising the faceless corporations, the cover ups and lies, and the accidents that inevitably come. One death is one too many, and I don’t need to see a repetitive list of incidents to know that placing yourself directly with animals who lack a natural fear of humans is a waiting disaster, especially when you have artificially manipulated their environment. Blackfish proves that our understanding and power doesn’t extend as far as we believe and that the animals can kill without warning, but I would have liked to have spent more time asking why? Asking why we feel it’s OK to psychology torture animals like this for entertainment and why it then surprises us if they snap back to their natural state when frustration, or aggression, gets too much.

Picketing At Seaworld - Blackfish

It’s a good and interest watch, but it felt too unbalanced and too focused on simply pointing fingers rather than presenting a fair debate. I still have no interest in going to Seaworld, I still wont bother visiting a zoo, but it hasn’t made me want to grab a placard and join the picket line either. It just left me reflectively depressed that society, are still so blinkered and myopic that we still think caging an animal for pleasure is an accetpable thing to do.

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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