REVIEW BY BURL BURLINGAME / Special to the Star-Advertiser
The word that comes to mind is anthropomorphize. You know, the biological conditioning to see whatever might be human in things or creatures that aren’t human. We’ve all wondered what our dogs and cats are thinking — but never wonder about the process of thinking itself.
Opens Friday, Aug. 23, at Consolidated Theaters Kahala 8
All of this comes to mind while watching director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s masterful and disturbing documentary “Blackfish,” about the enlistment of killer whales, or orcas, in aquatic circuses such as SeaWorld. Orcas are huge, magnificent pack animals of the sea, about which relatively little was known until recently, and they are colored as cutely as a panda, which is disarming, and have adorable, high-pitched squeaks, which is doubly disarming — and I use “disarm” on purpose, because orcas in captivity have been known to bite off the arms of their human trainers.
“Blackfish” methodically makes the case that orcas are sweet, eager, big-brained, social animals that have wide-ranging habitats and a powerful drive toward a social family structure, and that keeping the orcas in tiny tanks, separated from their kind, creates a kind of cetacean psychosis. OK, they’re not enlisted at SeaWorld, they’re enslaved — but that’s also anthropomorphizing, isn’t it?
Cowperthwaite is lucky in one regard — performances at places like SeaWorld are captured on film from several angles, and also on audience cameras. She had plenty of cringeworthy footage to choose from, and backs it up with angry interviews and clever graphics.
Audiences love orca performances because they assume that the eager-to-please creatures love them in return. But is that the case? “Blackfish” doesn’t come right out and say it, but dealing with orcas is like dealing with aliens from outer space. Their reality is not only different than we imagine, it’s more different than we CAN imagine.
In many ways, “Blackfish” is a horror film in which we discover that we have met the monster, and the monster is us.