MRR Review: "Blackfish"

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Notorious killer whale Tilikum is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a top killer whale trainer. Blackfish shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity.
3.5

MRR Review: "Blackfish"

-- Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements, including disturbing and violent images)
Length: 83 minutes
Release Date: January 19, 2013
Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Genre: Documentary/Drama

"Blackfish" is a powerful documentary that focuses on the story of an orca that was kept in captivity and reportedly killed three people. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and staring Samantha Berg, Dave Duffus, and Dean Gomersall, this strong and enlightening documentary may have the potential to change the way individuals look at orcas in captivity. While they may seem carefree and happy, "Blackfish" shows viewers another side to their lives at SeaWorld and other water parks around the world.

The film starts in 2010, telling the story of a 40-year-old whale trainer who was killed by an orca named Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando. Reportedly, the incident took place in front of a horrified crowd. While there were multiple stories floating around about what exactly happened, the park officials at SeaWorld stated that the whale went after the trainer's ponytail, which should not have been dangling. It's important to note, however, that Tilikum seemed to already have a history of killing. Reportedly, the orca killed once before at Sea Land, located in Vancouver and might have killed before at SeaWorld Orlando.

With its 83 minute running time, the film does an excellent job of providing the audience with a ride on the emotional roller coaster that both people and animals involved in the industry experience. Following the story surrounding the SeaWorld Orlando whale trainer, the film shifts to interviewing an older man who was involved in stealing orcas from their mothers to place them in captivity in the 1970s. The man, an ex-mercenary, goes on to say that in all of his experiences, the one thing he cannot forget are the whales.

The film explains that orcas don't handle separation from their family well; what happens is illustrated via animation in the film while a narrator explains the process. The male orcas provide a diversion while the females and young whales swim away. Unfortunately, due to spotter planes, the ploy doesn't always work.

Through this emotional illustration, the film shows the audience that orcas are highly intelligent and emotional animals that are significantly affected by such a traumatizing experience as being ripped away from their family. Interestingly enough, Tilikum was separated from his family at a young age. To further prove the point of how captivity and separation from their family further damages the whales, former SeaWorld trainers who have had experience dealing with whales dealing with separation and captivity are interviewed in order to share their experiences on how emotionally depressed and distressed the whales become.

The compelling trainers make audiences realize that the world of an orca in captivity isn't carefree and happy. Instead, the trainers believe that certain aspects of captivity, such as isolation and lack of space, can be emotionally, physically, and mentally damaging to the whales.

Although it is a documentary, the film is anything but boring. With stories told of how some whale trainers were close to death at the hands of their orca friends, the film brings to light the danger that whale trainers face as well has how captivity and poor conditions can affect the sanity and behavior of whales. While the film is rated PG-13, audiences may find themselves cringing, crying, and perhaps smiling, at certain parts throughout the film for many reasons.

"Blackfish" sends a powerful message about the phenomenon of whales being taken into captivity so places like SeaWorld and other theme parks can provide entertainment to guests. Most audiences enjoy animal shows and look forward to seeing such big, powerful animals performing tricks. The film hints that the industry is thriving, but it also informs audiences that many whales are unhappy being in captivity. The movie also points out that removing these mystical creatures from parks like SeaWorld and placing them back in their natural habitat is highly unlikely to happen.

The film points out that current SeaWorld officials refused to be interviewed for the film. With powerful interviews, haunting footage, and an emotional yet touching story to tell, "Blackfish" brings the topic of whale captivity front and center by exposing the dark side of keeping these amazing and highly intelligent animals in captivity for entertainment purposes. "Blackfish" is one of those films that is guaranteed to keep audiences on the edge of their seats while provoking their thoughts and touching their hearts.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5