The thing is, Blackfish isn’t an agenda film. Not really. It doesn’t tell us, the audience, or them, the perpetrators, what to do. There are no pleas for how to “fix this.” No title card telling us what organization to follow as a means of support. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has been upfront about the fact that she isn’t an activist, but rather an observer. And that’s what Blackfish asks us to do: observe. Which works as much in its favor as it does to its determent.
We hear stories. Stories of how orcas are captured from vast oceans. Stories of food deprivation as a method of teaching orcas new tricks. Stories of SeaWorld trainers being hurt and killed by the whales. Stories of cover-ups, lies and deceit. Make no mistake, although Cowperthwaite claims to have attempted to make a impartial film (she insists several inquiries for SeaWorld interviews were denied), Blackfish is anything but. The film is a scathing indictment of an industry worth millions. And that’s fine. A documentary doesn’t have to be fair to be great. But if it is so staunchly going to choose a side, then I need more.
I need to know Cowperthwaite’s intentions, and what she wants me to do with them. Watching Blackfish, I was sad, angry, and never hopeful. And perhaps that’s the point. Cowperthwaite paints a nasty picture, and perhaps the picture is meant to speak for itself. Still, I wished for more direction. Blackfish feels like I spent 90 minutes searching YouTube videos of how much SeaWorld sucks. And when I was done, I sat there and asked myself, “Okay… so, what now?”
And here’s where I get personal. Here’s where I break the rules and ignore film criticism for a moment. I am an ardent animal rights activist. I choose not to discuss it often in open forums, because many people are offended by my beliefs. I live my life the way I choose to live it, and would never dare tell someone how to live theirs, eating and vacation habits included. Truth be told, I walked into Blackfish as a biased viewer. When I sat down in the theater, I literally told myself, “Okay, forget everything. Have an open mind.” And I did. I didn’t start the film with hatred toward SeaWorld (and believe me, I fucking hate SeaWorld). I didn’t let the film reinforce my beliefs, but rather sat and judged the film as critically as I would any other.
The result was a feeling of confusion. I have no idea what Blackfish hopes to accomplish or achieve. As a film lover, I hoped the film would entice me emotionally. It did. But not fully. Those expecting a movie as accomplished and confident as The Cove would be better off rewatching that 2009 Oscar winner. Perhaps my personal and critical standards for Blackfish were too high going in. Or perhaps the film simply could’ve offered more. More what? Hell, I’m no teacher. But more, certainly. B-