Like many people who grew up in the 90s, part of my childhood fantasies were going to Disney World and going to SeaWorld. Of course, neither of which were close, or affordable, so that never happened. But, going to both places, especially Disney World, never leaves your hopes and dreams, and seemingly becomes the type of trip you do with your kids not just as a treat, but because you want to live vicariously through them. But, one night while watching Bill Maher’s Real Time, there was an interview about Blackfish and it was quite disparaging. Now, with the movie easily available, I found myself intently watching.
To begin, there aren’t any characters in the film, per se, but there are repeat faces. Many of them are former SeaWorld trainers and while we watch and listening to their discussions, you realize one thing: None of them really were qualified when they first started their positions as trainers. They will even tell you that themselves, for none of them had advanced degrees in marine biology or veterinarian care, they were simply animal lovers who found a job. And they convey a sense of naivety as we go from talking about their background to meeting a slew of killer whales, with the film giving a spotlight on one in particular: Tilikum.
As for the overall “story” of the film. What the documentary looks into is similar to what The East tried to do. Companies like SeaWorld have incidents and accidents yearly, in fact, there supposedly have been at least 70 incidents with killer whales since the 1970s. But, since this was the time before the internet, they quickly wrote most things off as “accidents” and faulted the trainer more so than the animal. However, in this film we see what happens to these animals to make so these events are certainly no accident. It all very much plays out like a Killer Whale version of the triangular trade. We watch as these animals are taken from their cultures, and their families, and forced to work day in and day out for the measliest of meals. Because of this, they become frustrated, are sometimes forced into isolation and sometimes end up having to fend against those they cohabit with for despite being the same species, as we learn, between their cultural differences and gender, this can lead them to attacking, if not killing each other. And the film doesn’t just show Tilikum, as if he is a rare example, but various whales since the 70s which really help substantiate their claim.
Now to be honest, I am not a huge animal lover. This isn’t to say I would kick a dog in the street, but at the same time I wouldn’t be the type of pick him or her up and take her to an animal hospital. With that said though, this is the type of film, which I wish The East was. A film that really makes you want to be involved, even if it is just spreading this film around. I say this because, to me, it really does make you upset at companies like SeaWorld when you learn about these intelligent animals and what happens to them in captivity. Also, it makes you feel supremely ignorant like when you learn what is happening in Syria is just a repeat of the past, or how things are going on in the country, state, or even town you live in, and don’t know a damn thing about what is going on. So, needless to say, the film is very informative and provides not just testimonies, but also pictures and videos of not just whales attacking humans, but also the environment which turns an intelligent animal into a beast.
But, one thing I do wish there was more of, though their argument would have been hard to fight with, was some opposition. Naturally, SeaWorld didn’t comment at all in the film, but instead they got one former trainer who seemed so much like a stooge that you just roll your eyes whenever he appears. And really, that would have been the only thing I would have wanted more of. For the film finds other companies which admit guilt, as well as people who made a living capturing Killer Whales, but the lack of any real opposition or serious counter argument makes it so you don’t necessarily think they are lying to you, but you really do want to get into the head of the people who support and continue this practice.
Overall: Definitely a Go See
Truth be told, I like documentaries with some type of narrative like this and what Disney produces time to time. But, it should be noted, this is a bit more like an expose than Disney’s “look at these cute, but deadly, animals act like live-action versions of what makes us money.” With that said, I do recommend seeing this movie if you are curious, an animal lover looking for some facts for a future argument or someone, like me, who has had an interest in places like SeaWorld which thrive on animal entertainment. I can’t say though if this is worth a buy or not, but it is at least a rental.