‘The Cove’: Graphic shots of dolphin slaughter make you angry

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, August 6, 2009 9:22pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Do documentaries still have the power to change people’s minds and not just reinforce already-existing ideas? “The Cove” could be an earth-shaker, since its outrage goes beyond politics in a dramatic way.

It’s beyond politics for the reason that everybody, with the probable exception of the Japanese whaling industry, loves dolphins. And what “The Cove” exposes, in incredibly graphic images, are very bad things being done to dolphins.

Filmmaker Louie Psihoyos (a veteran “National Geographic” photographer) undertook filming a horrifying ritual that regularly takes place in the seaside town of Taiji, Japan. When the dolphins are migrating past the town, local fishermen harass them into a sheltered cove. What happens next has two phases.

First, the most attractive dolphins are selected for capture and sale to aquariums around the world; they’ll perform tricks and bring in customers.

The day after these animals are carted off, the remaining dolphins are massacred in a bloodfest of biblical proportions, and their meat sold for food.

Because this is a closely-guarded process (fishermen aggressively block camera-toting observers, even when the cove is quiet), Psihoyos resorted to dramatic, and apparently illegal, methods to document the slaughter.

This meant assembling a team of whale-lovin’ crazies, including scientists and even the special-effects people at the George Lucas studio (who created authentic-looking fake rocks inside which cameras could be hidden).

But most of all it meant following the spirited lead of Richard O’Barry, a man I was unfamiliar with even though he played a large part in my childhood: He’s the guy who caught and trained TV’s “Flipper,” the dolphin star of a show that was basically “Lassie” on the seashore.

Because that show helped create a culture in which bottlenose dolphins are considered cute and trainable, O’Barry now feels the burden of conscience. He now crusades against keeping dolphins in captivity, and happily signs on for the breaking and entering that will be required to film the heretofore-unseen dolphin killings.

“The Cove” skillfully brings up lots of issues: the way the Japanese whaling industry has essentially bought off other members of the International Whaling Commission, and the suggestion that Japanese people who buy “whale meat” have no idea they are eating mercury-saturated dolphin.

But when audiences walk out of this movie — no, when they stagger out of this movie — the topic will be the killings in the cove, where the carcasses pile up and the seawater turns red.

The killing of 23,000 dolphins annually sounds minor compared to the planet’s other problems, even though the effects of over-fishing (especially of sharks) could well be the tool with which we finally finish ourselves off, human-existence-wise. But still: “The Cove” is going to shock people, maybe into action.

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