Thursday, 26 September 2013

Blackfish, dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, wr. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Eli Despres, Tim Zimmermann, st. Kim Ashdown, Ken Balcomb, Samantha Berg, Dawn Brancheau

A slightly less universally palatable but equally powerful method of communicating Blackfish's message of Human imposition upon Nature might be Doug Stanhope's 2002 routine about ultimate closing acts. "You're not a killer whale trainer...", Stanhope says. "Because from my limited knowledge of marine biology, killer whales come out previously trained." While Cowperthwaite's film never goes so far as to agree with Stanhope's relabeling of 'trainers' as 'fuckwithers', it does nonetheless push the previous Seaworld Trainers' talking heads' remorse and guilt front and centre. The story charts the capture and installation of Tilikum, a large orca whale prized for his obesity that investors no doubt imagined would return them - quite literally - a bigger splash for their buck. Tilikum is systematically bullied by the other whales he's forced to share his tomb-like pen with - something the film claims has left him overcome with some kind of psychotic rage. Yet even after being responsible for the deaths of three people, Tilikum is still kept in captivity, wheeled out for performances and mined for his sperm. Like all enviro-warning documentaries, Blackfish is heavily subjective, but as The Newsroom takes great pains to remind us, sometimes there just aren't two sides to every story. Yet there is a conflict between Seaworld's audiences, whom I suspect just want to take their kids to see some big fish or the trainers themselves, who despite little or no specialist skills, 'fell into' the job, and the film's inferred desire to lay all complicity at everyone's door. But this is but a small matter, and ultimately, it is Seaworld itself who ends up getting both barrels. The film is hugely compelling though. The interviewees are engaging and often emotional, and the breadth of incriminating stock footage on display is horrifyingly candid. But maybe the saddest thing about Blackfish is not so much the plight of the animals themselves, but how the movie serves as a bitter reminder of humanity's incessant need to attribute everything with dollar value and, and as Dr. Ian Malcolm would say, "slap it on a plastic lunchbox". A recent Tom Toro cartoon shows kids seated around a campfire, some apocalyptic city ruins looming dimly in the background. An adult regales them with tales of times past. "Yes, the planet got destroyed..." he says. "But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders." Ain't that the truth.