Synopsis: Notorious killer whale Tilikum is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a top killer whale trainer. Blackfish shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity
Stars: Tilikum, Samantha Berg, Dave Duffus, Dean Gomersall
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Running Length: 83 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: Like many kids who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s I made a trip to Florida for my own Disney Adventure with a side trip to Sea World and a front row, spash-zone seat for the Shamu show. I screamed in delight as the majestic fish leaped and dove, spraying water all over my family and left the park with a stuffed animal as a reminder of the day. I keep that happy memory with me even after seeing Blackfish, a documentary that uses the story of one whale in captivity to present a larger cautionary tale of the dangers of life in captivity.
The center of the movie is Tilikum, a male orca that was captured off the shores of Iceland at just three years old and brought to a small seapark in Canada. When a young trainer drowns after falling into the orcas pool, the park is shut down and the whale was moved to Sea World in Orlando. The ensuing years saw the orca become a favorite of the trainers but who occasionally shows a dark side as well. Leading up to the highly publicized death of a respected trainer, Blackfish charts Tilikum’s behavior as seen through the eyes of former Sea World staff that worked with him.
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s film is set-up like an edge-of-your-seat thriller and makes wise use of archival footage from the whale being caught as well as home video material of Tilikum’s interactions with Sea World staff. The film is clearly slanted to the side of not keeping animals in captivity and instead of merely launching a Greenpeace-y argument on the subject Cowperthwaite uses her resources and interviewees to make the case for her.
A solid documentary with an abundance of information and impassioned interview subjects that come off as well-informed, if slightly biased, Free Willy this movie is not. Ultimately, the question always being asked is any animal truly better off in captivity? In the case of orcas, family-oriented and long-living, the answer is unquestionably no.