Movie Review: 'Blackfish' -- 3.5 stars
Documentary by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Playing at Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center and Sunshine Cinema
The best documentaries are indistinguishable from the most compelling fiction films, telling stories that incorporate the standards of a particular genre to illuminate a key fact of the human condition.
"Blackfish" is ostensibly the story of Tilikum, a killer whale living in captivity at SeaWorld in Orlando who has been involved in the deaths of three people. But it's really a movie about us, an exploration of the inherent human need to reduce nature's mysteries to modes we can easily process.
Documentarian Gabriela Cowperthwaite structures her film as a psychological drama, exploring the series of difficult life events that may have collectively created what one interviewee calls "a psychosis" in Tilikum. These include the whale's capture in 1983 and a stint spent largely confined in the dark at a Canadian park.
The movie is filled with sadness. It chillingly depicts the three deaths through a combination of first-person testimony from witnesses and horrifying footage. There's an indelible, haunting image that runs throughout: the collapsed dorsal fins of Tilikum and his fellow captive orcas contrasted with the healthy, erect fins of their counterparts in the wild.
Of course, this is an activist documentary that's directly opposed to the idea of keeping these whales in captivity. It builds a strong case against SeaWorld, attacking the organization on multiple fronts. The company would have been smart to respond on camera.
But "Blackfish" isn't a movie about political or legal battles. It's the story of a species, our own, driven to tame the untamable and the tragic consequences of such an endeavor. Inside Tilikum is a complicated soul that we'll never understand, no matter how many flips, waves and leaps we make him perform.