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Blackfish - Film Review

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by Katie Fisher (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living and studying in Sydney
Published November 14th 2013
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
The name "killer whale" has never been more appropriate for the giant mammals of the sea as in this portrayal of orcas in captivity. "Blackfish" is a documentary film directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, that critically analyses the deaths of trainers by a killer whale named Tilikum. This psychological thriller is simultaneously horrifying and captivating; echoing the neglected notion that 'nature cannot be tamed'.

blackfish, documentary, film, killer whale

Cowperthwaite effectively uses archival footage and interviews with eye witnesses to track the story of not only Tilikum's killings, but also other fatal attacks from orcas in captivity around the world. By starting from the beginning of killer whale captivity, with the traumatic capture of infant orcas at sea, Cowperthwaite builds up a suspenseful and hypnotising history. The film is shadowed by an overwhelming sense of doom that culminates with the death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau, on February 24, 2010.

blackfish, documentary, film, killer whale

'Blackfish', from start to finish, elicits goosebumps and terror; emphasising the vulnerability of human beings to these 12,000 pound killers. The thriller explores the psychological torture suffered by Tilikum - ranging from isolation to starvation - and paints a picture of his frustration so clear it will have you wondering how the trainers ever put their feet in the water in the first place.

The use of killer whales for financial gain and entertainment brings to light the true villain of this thriller: the human captors in their corporate bubble. Cowperthwaite highlights the ubiquitous nature of mental illness and begs the audience to see these creatures as something more than just animals capable of performing tricks.

blackfish, documentary, film, killer whale

The tale of Tilikum, the serial killer, is both heartbreaking and terrifying and shows us the very real consequences of keeping animals in captivity. At the core of Cowperthwaite's beautifully directed film is the undeniable truth that we cannot tame the wild. As a result, you will never look at captive killer whales in quite the same way.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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