Review: Blackfish (15)

It is too simplistic to say that Blackfish will do for killer whales what Jaws did for sharks.

But there is something about Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s unforgettable documentary that screams at mankind to accept one salient fact: wild animals should not be incarcerated until they go slowly mad.

Jaws was a fictional tale about a killer shark. Blackfish is the true-life story of Tilikum, a whale snatched in the 1970s from its mother when still a baby and reared in captivity.

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Tilikum has killed three people. How and why is the subject of Cowperthwaite’s incredible film, which suggests that frustration and psychosis drove this particular killer whale to turn on his keepers. Former trainers from America’s Sea World centre queue up to denounce their former employers’ methods.

Vintage video shows these same people uncomfortably peddling the party line. The company itself refused to participate in the film.

Thus Blackfish is almost entirely one-sided. Yet it is hard to argue with history that shows how mankind has the temerity to meddle with nature just as one former whale hunter comments that nature cannot be tamed. It is always there – as Tilikum proves. “We’re not playing with them. They’re playing with us,” says one.

The allegations come thick and fast: that Sea World orchestrated cover-ups and suppressed information about the extent of whale attacks – 70-plus incidents are recorded – on humans and on each other. And it is trainer Dawn Brancheau, beautiful blonde poster girl for whales in captivity, who becomes a posthumous advocate for closing down such sites. She was Tilikum’s third victim. The manner of her death, as explained by another expert, appears to show how these intelligent beasts feel frustration just like humans. And as the details emerge, the film reaches a truly shattering conclusion. Unmissable.

On staggered release