Blackfish ★★★½

There are a few things that get me really worked up, anger-wise. Bullying is one of them, which turns movies like Let (Me/The Right One) In into a way more powerful experience, emotionally, than it might have been. Another is animal abuse. In general, even neglectful abuse will really grind my gears and make me angry at people that are hurting these animals that don't understand what's going on. So a movie about the treatment of the Orcas at Sea World and other establishments is going to work on me at a base level, even if the movie itself isn't as good as it could be. Which is, unfortunately, the case here. The scenes and descriptions of the ways the animals lash out at each other for lack of better avenues of recourse are deeply disturbing. I think it's pretty safe to say that I won't be returning to a Sea World any time soon. Even worse than those scenes are the videos of the Orcas attacking their human trainers. Several are captured by park visitors that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And they're all some kind of terrifying, even the attacks that end without the trainers dying. It's horrible, terrible stuff to watch. Unfortunately, the majority of the rest of the film doesn't match the power of those amateur videos.

Mostly comprised of interviews with former Sea World trainers and one ornery OSHA investigator, this film has a clear point of view that seems just and right on the surface but has a few quibbles that break down some of the arguments if the audience thinks too much. The focus on the killer whales at these places is fine for a documentary, but beyond a mention that most animals in captivity suffer from some mental problems, there's little indication that other animals have acted similarly in similar situations, something that must be true. And three kills by one whale over the course of 20 years is tragic, obviously, but not really surprising or unexpected. How often do people die on the job? I'd wager it's more than 3 in 20 years. It's sad, and Sea World has handled the situation all wrong, but it's not inherently malicious that people die while working in dangerous jobs. There are strong arguments to be made that Sea World should close its doors and release these animals into the wild. The sad and unfortunate deaths are not the only reason, nor are they even the most compelling reason, despite what this documentary would have you believe.

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