Blackfish (2013): “They’re not your whales.”

blackfish-1Once you see this film, you will never want to visit a marine park or zoo ever again. You will be motivated to stick up for defenseless creatures who can’t speak for themselves. Blackfish (2013) tells the story of Tilikum, the killer whale who is currently performing at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. Tilikum has been responsible for the deaths of three people. This genuinely upsetting documentary explores these incidents that continue to surround Tilikum, and also the issues in general that surround keeping killer whales in captivity.

Blackfish is constructed in the form of a general, ‘talking head’ style documentary. The majority of the interviewees are ex-whale trainers at various SeaWorld resorts, and they show a side to the parks that no guest has ever seen before. The ex-trainer interviewees are so passionate, and at times clearly angry and frustrated. It is heartbreaking to hear them struggle with the idea that although they train the whales, care for them, and feel genuine affection for them – ultimately, the whales are wild animals that have the potential to hurt, regardless of their trainer’s feelings.

Interviewees discuss the various fatal but preventable incidents that Tilikum is involved with, and also other incidents that involve whales in captivity, in order to paint a coherent and worrying picture of a system where these animals are exploited for the simple fact that they earn a lot of money. The documentary is a very clear exploration of a very complex issue. However, it is important to note that although Blackfish has an unambiguous point of view regarding animal rights, at no point is it preachy or moralistic.

The film is intercut with humorous and ironic (and exceptionally cheesy) old-school advertisements for SeaWorld from the 80s and 90s. When it comes time to discuss the court cases that involved SeaWorld after a trainer’s death, an interesting style of animation is used; the court is shown as if it’s drawn onto paper from an exercise book, bringing the court transcripts to life rather than just using on-screen text. In addition to this, video footage of performances with the whales, footage of attacks, and also beautiful scenes of whales in the wild very clearly show the contrast between healthy animals, and animals that are kept in captivity. Visually, the film is presented in not just an intelligent way, but in a varied way that keeps the narrative fresh.

13038-1Blackfish is a near-perfect documentary. The was one moment that took me out of the experience, where the interviewees were discussing a SeaWorld trainer who was crushed by one of the whales whilst performing with them. We are shown footage where the trainer is crushed, repeatedly, and then in slow motion as one of the interviewees is discussing the damage done to his body. I thought this was gratuitous, and that it cheapened the tone. We did not need to see that footage repeatedly for emphasis. I always prefer films to ‘show not tell’, but in this case it was a bit much. However, this was the only gripe that I had with it, as every other piece of attack footage was shown in a fairly sensitive manner.

I could write a lot more, but I decided not to write too much about this film because I really think that everyone should see it, not just read about it. Initially, directly after watching Blackfish, if I were to describe the film in one word, it would be ‘upsetting’. However, upon taking time to consider it, the film is also empowering. Knowledge is power, and by bringing these difficult issues to public awareness, perhaps steps can be taken to remedy this clearly broken situation. Blackfish is an intelligent, passionate, and persuasive documentary, which I encourage everyone to see.

4.5/5
Watch the trailer here.

14 comments

  1. […] Anna reviews the upsetting documentary Blackfish. […]

  2. Almost completely agreed. But I think you know that already, as I think you’ve also read my review. 😉

    My only comment: I don’t know that this one targets zoos. The restraint in overextending its message might be my favorite part about it.

    1. Yeah, it took me some time to write about this one! I think the mention of zoos is my personal viewing bias showing through. 😉 You’re right, its restraint is very impressive. The film could have easily generalised the issues with animal captivity beyond SeaWorld but it was clever of them not to do so!

  3. Really powerful documentary. It was pretty one-sided and so came across as an all-out attack but you can’t argue with what the film shows you. Great write up.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, it certainly did present as one big, persuasive attack. I did a bit of my own research on SeaWorld’s response to the film and so far I’m not too impressed with it!

  4. Nice review Anna, I think of it more as an expose rather than an attack. I was zonked when I watched the film but it really does expose the truth. And if the truth hurts then………is it really anyone’s fault but the culprit? The thing that amazed me most about this film was that there are actually killer whales in captivity at all because I had no idea that there were, I found it to be an odd concept that this is the case considering that they can easily kill, it’s kind of like having a gorilla locked in a cage then walking in and trying to dance with it. This logical disconnect is concerning to say the least.

    1. Thanks! You’re right, the film is a giant wake-up call. I felt so sorry for the poor whales, especially the one whose calf was taken away. That was such a frustrating and upsetting moment. The whole concept of keeping such amazingly huge and complex animals inside those tiny pools when they initially have an entire ocean to roam, it just boggles the mind. Luckily the film is getting so much attention – hopefully Sea World will face the facts soon!

  5. […] on killer whales at seaworld orlando That would be Blackfish […]

  6. Great review. This is in my top 10 movies from 2013. (and I’m usually not much of a fan of Documentaries.

    Very powerful movie that is a must see! I am still thinking about it 3 and half months after seeing it. I plan to re-watch it soon (if I get the time).

    1. Totally agreed, I’m still thinking about this one as well. My heart is routinely broken every time I think about the mother whale calling for her calf. 😦 So sad.

  7. […] Up: Blackfish Amazing documentary. Has to be seen to be believed, and I encourage everyone to see this […]

  8. […] Snub for Best Documentary Feature: Blackfish The Academy were blackmailed by SeaWorld. There, I said […]

  9. […] Blackfish (2013): “They’re not your whales.” […]

  10. […] humorously, which reminded me of the way similar media was used in the highly acclaimed documentary Blackfish (2013). The film’s motif of using a typewriter to define jargon and Scientology terminology […]

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