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Blackfish - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

There is always inherent bias in any documentary film, but I would challenge anyone to watch Blackfish and not walk away feeling disgusted with SeaWorld. The filmmakers say that SeaWorld turned down multiple interview requests for the film, which doesn't exactly help their case. One can only assume they have no defense, if they won't take an opportunity to defend themselves. The bottom line is that this is a place that neglects and abuses orca whales, and puts their whale trainers in mortal danger. Opinions seem to vary on which of those two points is more important, but anyone with any sense is going to take either one or both of them seriously.

SeaWorld's reputation is hardly a secret. Maybe it is to the ignorant masses who buy tickets to shows they regard as good, family entertainment -- where trainers on microphones spew out the bullshit that the whales do all these tricks just because they want to. But plenty of people actively avoid these parks, and for good reason -- which Blackfish puts into pointed historical context. SeaWorld has had multiple serious accidents, more than one of them fatal, over the past forty years. Somehow, maybe because there might be ten years between incidents, SeaWorld insists their trainers are not in danger and these are "isolated incidents." And yet this film catches SeaWorld in outright lies: they'll say the accidents are due to trainer error, even when it's their most experienced trainer who gets killed. Here we see multiple former SeaWorld trainers telling us they saw the incident on tape and know for certain the trainer did nothing wrong. What happened could have happened to any one of them.

And this cannot be stressed enough: there is no recorded incident of a so-called "Killer Whale" harming a human being in the wild. The former trainers interviewed for this film point out what seems should be obvious: the whales in the wild have a hell of a lot more room to disperse and calm down when agitated. These are massive creatures, weighing thousands of pounds, kept in cement pools. Orcas travel in pods and develop distinct cultures and vocalizations that bear no relation to other pods, but SeaWorld puts orcas removed from their pods together in pools and assumes they'll be happy with the company. It's a classic case of underestimating animal behaviors. Here we see heartbreaking footage of one particular whale getting rake marks all across his body from the other whales being aggressive with him. As one of the interview subjects says, "He has nowhere to run."

So what do they expect? This is a recipe for disaster, and it's one SeaWorld mixes up on a daily basis and has been for years, even after disasters occur. They've been sued by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), and managed to get a judge to tell SeaWorld they must keep their trainers separated from the whales by a barrier. It's a notable difference here: OSHA's primary concern is the safety of the trainers. The trainers are unilaterally concerned about the well-being of the whales. In the latter case, some have learned that their concern is in a way misplaced: they stay because they want to take care of the animal, but don't realize how awful the animal's life is just by virtue of being held in captivity. Some animals are just too huge for this type of confinement. The exploitation of the animals is one thing, and there can be reasoned debate about it. But what justification can there possibly be for literally putting these animals in concrete prison cells? Many of them seem to enjoy doing the tricks -- "seem" being the operative word. That only happens for a certain period of time. When they're not performing, they are kept in even smaller holding tanks, overnight, with no lights or any stimulation whatsoever -- besides, maybe, ramming each other out of frustration.

Blackfish is far from wall-to-wall footage of carnage, but there's more than enough of it -- and other footage that may not quite be carnage but is still terrifying -- to make a convincing case. And its case really is for both the whales and the trainers -- and that the trainers are endangered because the whales are frustrated by their captivity. Wouldn't you be? In one telling moment, a former trainer talks about what she had long thought was a personal connection she felt with the whales -- that she liked to think the whale worked with her because she enjoyed it, not just because she was being fed fish. But now, perhaps that was wrong. You think?

A killer whale is revealed to be neglected and abused in captivity in BLACKFISH.

Overall: B+
1 comment or Leave a comment
tommy50702 From: tommy50702 Date: July 30th, 2015 02:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
It’s upsetting not just on account of the employees and trainers, some of whom died horrible, grisly deaths, but also on account of the attacking animals, who don’t seem very happy to be there, to say the least.
1 comment or Leave a comment