Monday, August 24, 2009

The Cove

There aren’t too many movies out there that I would actually call “important”. Films that can provoke such a deep level of thought, that they can directly influence you to do something. I understand full well that this issue of film importance is purely subjective. But that’s the essence of criticism in general, right? So, in my subjective opinion, you need to look no further for an important film because right here before us, we have the most important film in years.

The Cove is one of the most eye-opening films I’ve ever seen. On one hand, it does what every great documentary should do: expose an issue (or story) and make you care. Additionally, the film does what every great movie should do: elicit emotion.

Every year in the little Japanese town of Taiji, 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered in a well-hidden cove. But for what? Food? Sport? I’m not sure, and neither was Rick O’Barry, the world’s foremost dolphin and whale activist. When O’Barry learned of the slaughter he tried several times to expose it (through American and foreign media) but to no avail. Soon, he told his friend Louie Psihoyos of the annual slaughter, and Psihoyos responded by simply saying that they “would fix this.”

Psihoyos, co-creator of the non-profit organization The Oceanic Preservation Society, swiftly went to work, recruiting a kind of Ocean’s 11 crew to document the cruelty that occurs in the tiny cove. And boy do they go all out. The very best HiDef cameras, military-grade thermal imaging, underwater sound equipment, hell, they even hide cameras in rocks. What the efforts of this team produces, is simply shocking. And infuriating. And just plain sad.

So, that’s your movie. Peter Travers of “The Rolling Stone” has given the film its most accurate praise, saying The Cove is “a mix between Flipper and The Bourne Identity”.

O’Barry, you see, feels partly responsible for the dolphin mania that sweeps the globe. He was the main technical advisor on the Flipper TV series, in charge of capturing each dolphin and training them for the show. His breaking point came when one of the dolphins swam into his arms one evening, took a breath, and then didn’t take another one.

Wait, what?

Dolphins are, in fact, the only other mammal (aside from humans) that can commit suicide. You see, each breath for a dolphin is a conscience effort, if they don’t choose to breathe, then they die. I never knew that.

O’Barry says that dolphins are not creatures to be held in captivity. They need to swim 40 or more miles a day; wondering the vast, endless abyss of the ocean. Being confined to such tight spaces causes an insurmountable level of stress for dolphins, thereby producing their desire to die. In addition, dolphin’s main sense is their hearing. They see, feel, hear and touch, all with sound. So those whistles the trainers use at SeaWorld actually harm the animals a great deal. I never knew that, either.

“The dolphin’s smile is nature’s greatest deception, because it looks like they’re always happy,” O’Barry poignantly says. But I’ll get off my soapbox.

O’Barry (pictured below) proves to be a great focus character. His glossed eyes always on the verge of tearful resentment. But credit director Psihoyos with not only discovering an appalling annual tradition, but for doing it illegally (every crew member has a warrant out for their arrest in Japan).
I first saw The Cove in January at Sundance, and at that first viewing, during the final 15 minutes of the film, I was simply shocked. I mouth was literally hanging open; completely horrified by what I saw. At the second viewing, I was just angry, my heart pounding out of my chest, my inability to do something about the situation overtaking any other emotion. The third time around, oh how the tears were flowin’.

But, honestly, just seeing The Cove isn’t good enough. No. The film is too small to get any kind of mainstream release. So, much how An Inconvenient Truth started a new wave of eco-conscience hipsters, I only hope that enough people see The Cove and mold their feelings into action.

This hasn’t been a typical review, and for that I apologize. I haven’t even gotten into the other dangers that the film exposes. The mercury poising. The government coverup. The sideways bureaucratic meetings. I know I’ve said it before, but believe me, if there is a movie to travel dozens of miles to an independent movie theatre for, then this is it. Don’t really care about animals? See it anyway, the movie is thrilling as hell. Animal lover and don’t want to see the ghastly images? You’re the one that needs to see it, trust me, it will only add fuel to your fire. Whichever person you are, it’s utterly impossible to not be moved by O’Barry’s commanding entrance into a large conference room; demanding attention without saying a word. I haven’t seen many films that can do that. A+

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