Remember at the beginning of Jurassic Park, when they’re unloading a velociraptor and one of the guys gets dragged into the cage and the Australian hunter guy starts yelling “SHOOOOT HEEEEEHR! SHOOOOT HEEEEEHR”? I kept thinking about that throughout Blackfish, whenever they showed a whale start to pull someone under the water, manhandle them, etc. Why didn’t they have someone standing by with some kind of elephant gun or exploding shell? Why, in a society that demands we put a dog down after one little kid gets nipped, are these serial killer whales just let off the hook?
I understand that they’re wild animals and maybe the rules are different for them… the problem is, that’s exactly what Blackfish doesn’t understand. There are two halves to this movie that never really connect: 1) killer whales are dangerous and SeaWorld wants us to think that they aren’t so they can make money; and 2) killer whales are huge, majestic, intelligent creatures who would never harm a fly.
If your theme is “SeaWorld is bad,” that’s fine. They certainly seem like a typically loathsome, dishonest corporation. The most fascinating parts of Blackfish are about the company’s insidious campaigns to cover up the nature of the whale attacks, to misinform the public about whales in general, etc. But then we have to suffer through some vegan douchebag rhapsodizing about how killer whales have their own secret language and their brains are so advanced and they love their babies.
Look, I love animals. I don’t like the idea of some idiots taking baby whales away from their mothers. The movie has my complete support on that. But stop with the “these creatures are probably one step away from inventing the internal combustion engine” nonsense. Killer whales have their own language? Why, because they make sounds that mean different things? So do cows. Call me when they develop pronouns and adverbs.
The most hilarious moment comes when some animal researcher points to “mass strandings” as a sign of how brilliant whales are. Yes, MASS STRANDINGS – in which large numbers of whales will intentionally beach (and kill) themselves. To me – and this is just me – that seems like evidence of whales being big dumb idiots. Again, just me.
Some animals are clearly more intelligent than others, and they certainly have their own personalities and individual quirks. But the brains of animals simply do not function like the brains of human beings, and Blackfish makes the misguided assumption that they do time and time again. Why did Tilikum attack, kill and partially eat three people? Oh, he was “frustrated.” He’s “mentally disturbed.” NO, he’s a 22-foot 12,000-pound wild animal with “killer” in his name. He has no idea where he is or what “people” are or why he should care if he batters one to death. One day he might feel like doing tricks, the next day he might wonder what your forearm tastes like. No big deal to him.
Toward the end, one of the (former) trainers wonders whether the relationships they thought they had with the whales were “stronger than giving them fish”. Although the film itself doesn’t realize it, that’s the central, tragic question of Blackfish.
Basically, if you’ve seen Grizzly Man (2005), you’ve seen a much better version of this movie – one that doesn’t try to make us feel all warm and fuzzy by anthropomorphizing its titular wild beasts. The filmmakers could have saved themselves a lot of time if they had just listened to Werner Herzog, who said of his Grizzly Man subject: “And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food.”