DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Cove

Saturday 15 August 2009

The Cove

The Cove (2009) dir. Louie Psihoyos


The Cove, the controversial and award-winning doc about the fight of a group of environmentalists to stop the ritualistic killing of innocent dolphins, is a very good documentary, don’t get me wrong. It’s wholly riveting and revelatory told with a cinematic urgency of great action films. But the dogged preachiness of its agenda actually reduces the power of its message. In the final moments, the film continues to preach to the converted to the point where I was expecting someone to ask for donations on the way out of the theatre.

Ric O’Barry is Mr. Dolphin, a long history with the treasured creature, starting out as the animal trainer on the TV show Flipper, but after a tragic eye-opening experience which revealed an innate human-like self-awareness of the animals, O’Barry abandoned his profession and sought to free all of the dolphins of the earth from captivity.

Hell for dolphins happens to be Taijii Japan, the hub for the international dolphin business. Whether it’s as meat secretly placed in Japanese children’s lunches or for Sea World shows everything comes from Taijii. It’s a dirty business, so dirty, the nefarious fisherman annually enact a ritualistic slaughter undercover of all media and pedestrian eyes. Under the inspiration of O’Barry, a team of underwater photographers, ex-military ops personnel, and even Hollywood special effects experts engage in high stakes covert surveillance activities to secretly film and reveal to the world the illegal and inhumane practices against the dolphins.

It's a well constructed and polished piece, with all the credit due to the picture and sound editors who, much like the covert procedural detail recounted in last years Oscar-winning ‘Man on Wire’, compiled the footage shot by these enviro hijackers, and cut together a film with the suspense, tone and pace of a thriller. And concurrent to the present day story the life-history of O’Barry perfectly connects our fascination with dolphins with his own obsessions for freeing them.

But I couldn’t help but think that this barbaric ritual is made so horrific because the Dolphins are, for lack of a better word, cute. The film tries to diffuse the counter-charge that this dolphin slaughter is simply part of Japanese culture by showing the shocked reactions to this information from everyday Japanese pedestrians. Or the contention that it’s not much different than the cattle or poultry industry in North American, which indeed has its own issues with animal barbarism, with the rebuttal that Dolphins are intelligent and self-aware and capable of feeling pain and all the stress humans experience. Of course, if someone showed me graphic imagery of chickens getting their heads cut off, I would likely recoil in disgust as well.

This is why the shameless call to action which spreads across the screen telling us how to support to the Oceanic Preservation Society irked me. Were we just watching a 90mins advertisement for a charitable organization?

The most poignant thing the filmmakers could have done would have been to point the cameras at the audience and ask us rethink the animal slaughters which go on everyday in our own countries – a slaughter, which, like the one in the cove is kept out of sight of regular people.

This is a system all non-vegans implicitly accept. As part of a meat-producing society, we silently accept and trust our regulatory bodies to ensure the animals we eat are treated as humanely as possible before being killed and shipped off to our grocery stores. But every once in a while we need to audit and examine these practices and point cameras at people who don’t want to be filmed. And so, this is why a film like the Cove is necessary. Enjoy.

1 comment :

Jason said...

I agree, the film has problems, but the triumphs certainly outweigh those issue. The slaughter is just plain horrific, creating an image so bold that is questions human decency. By the way Food, Inc. is the movie that answers your concerns in your final paragraph.

Read my review of The Cove at http://cfilmc.com/the-cove/