Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review: 1 a.m. going on 1 a.m.: Thoughts on 'Blackfish' (Part 1)


Over the weekend we did that whole Daylight savings time thing and “fell back” as the kids say.
Some people, smart ones, used the extra hour to catch up on sleep.
Not being one of those smart ones, I used my extra hour to get one step ahead of my Netflix queue and watch a documentary about killer whales in captivity called “Blackfish.”
The doc had previously occupied the number one spot on my Netflix DVD queue, but then it turned up on CNN late last Saturday night/early Sunday morning at midnight, so my choice was made for me.
And after watching the movie, I have to say, there’s something deeply unsettling about clicking on the guide button to check what time something ends and seeing 1 a.m. followed by another 1 a.m.
It’s the type of thing that could send you into a psychotic episode in the middle of the night when you’re fending off sleep tooth and nail.
 What about “Blackfish?”

I’m an old man and I don’t make it past 11 o’clock most nights. The fact that I made it to 2 a.m. (1 a.m. technically), should be a pretty good indicator of what I thought about “Blackfish.”
The movie tells the story of  an orca whale dubbed  Tilikum, from his capture as a small-ish two-year old, to his time spent growing up in a rundown aquatic theme park in Canada to eventually finding long-term residence at Sea World in Orlando, where he’s now the largest orca in captivity.
And the three people he killed along the way. So yeah. Not exactly “Free Willy,” but you know, what is these days?
Tilikum has killed two trainers during his twenty plus years in captivity and one drifter who hid in the park after it closed and then went for an ill-advised swim. 
The most recent death, a trainer named Dawn Brancheau, sparked a nationwide debate that culminated in fines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and could lead to sweeping changes in the way Sea World operates.         
Spliced into the movie's narrative along with Tilikum’s own tragic story are other orca-related incidents all of which illustrate the idea that keeping the whales in captivity kind of completely sucks and so we shouldn’t do it.
“Blackfish” is built around interviews with former trainers at Sea World who talk a lot about the flowery ideas they had about the job when they started and how the reality never quite lived up to those notions.
In addition, there’s also a gut-punching amount of violence, a lot of it captured “Blair Witch” style on shaky handheld cameras. We get to see pods of whales being stalked for capture, whales attacking trainers, whales attacking each other, whales hunting a seal.
It’s not an easy movie to watch by any means, but that’s kind of the point.
 “Blackfish” is a documentary in the vein of Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock in the sense that the filmmakers had their conclusion already written about the subject before they filmed even a second of footage.
It’s not a movie about whales in captivity, it’s a movie about how evil it is to keep such emotional and intelligent creatures caged. And what living in that kind of environment can do to a  ’s highly-developed psyche.
You know, like how being ripped away from your family, and then kept either in complete isolation or with a group of your peers who constantly attack you might make you a little bit unpredictable. Only when you’re that giant and powerful and also unpredictable, people die.
The movie’s one sided nature isn’t completely its fault. Sea World provided no defense of itself, stuck its head in the sand and hoped the whole thing would just blow over.
It didn't, but is “Blackfish” worth watching? Yes. Absolutely. Just know that you’re getting one side of the story. Not that I cared because I still would have come down on the side of the filmmakers. After all, I come predisposed with a fairly healthy distrust of zoos, aquariums and anything else that puts wild animals on display in cages.
Even if documentaries or whales aren’t your thing, at times “Blackfish” plays more like a horror movie, good for a few chills.
Come back tomorrow for part two of my review. 

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