If Free Willy didn’t make you think that Seaworld was a barbaric phenomenon then wait til you see this. Gabriel Cowperthwaite’s documentary centres around Tilikum, a gigantic and short-tempered orca whale responsible for the death of three people, two of which being Seaworld’s own killer whale trainers . It takes the death of 40 year old trainer Dawn Brancheu in 2010 as it’s focal incident and traces back to the day that Tilikum was snatched from the wild. With a blend of emotional talking head interviews with ex-trainers, animatic recreations and disturbing stock footage the film calmly presents the evidence in a way that is involving and insightful from its very first moments.
The film doesn’t shy away from the gruesome details, if anything it forces us to watch them in detail. The squeamish may have to shield their eyes during a particular scene where a trainer is crushed between two whales, especially when the clip is repeated in slow-motion. But this is far from being an exercise in gratuitousness, instead it displays how dangerous a highly intelligent six ton mammal can be and how preposterous it is to keep them in such confined captivity. This is an issue that is often glossed over by theatrical tricks and cuddly toys but Blackfish does a tremendous job of peeling back the Disney packaging and delivering the cold facts.
But the tone isn’t all doom and gloom. Cowperthwaite could have quite easily slammed her views into the face of the audience but instead she opts for a more restrained approach. Instead of showing orcas as monstrous beasts it gives a well rounded view of the animal, depicting their capabilities to display genuine emotion and socialise in the wild which is a truly majestic spectacle. It’s a film that makes you feel, and by the end of its 90 minute runtime you will have experienced anger, frustration, wonder and (strangely) hope. This is the sign of successful non-fiction filmmaking and it’s these qualities that rank it alongside the likes of The Cove and Grizzly Man.
Not many people will have the opportunity to see the film due to its limited release in July. This is unfortunate as Blackfish is a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking and eye-opening feature that needs to be seen by the masses.