I’m good at being outraged. I enjoy it. I’m a sucker for a good documentary and I can usually watch, have a little cry, be angry for ten minutes and then move on. With the guilt of inaction looming over me, and the issue pushed to the back of my mind. Well, I watched The Cove last night and I’m not sure it's going to work this time.
I’ve always been one of those people who was left confused by the reaction of audiences when animals die in films. We are fine with watching human deaths, but if a dog dies (yes, Marley, I’m looking at you), the viewer becomes a blubbering mess. This isn’t to say that I’m unconcerned with, or have no sympathy for animal causes; I just don’t think it’s heartless to think that people should come first. If Elton John has taught us anything though, it’s the importance of the ‘Circle of Life’ and anyone who claims to be interested in environmental issues at all has to concede that animals are worth protecting. It seems it's not just about recycling folks!
So it was with this attitude that I settled in to watch The Cove. The cove is a classic espionage thriller, except that it’s real, about the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. Fishermen confuse the dolphins using sound, herd them into a secluded cove, pick the pretty ones to be sold to marine parks for massive sums of money, and then kill the rest. They do this every day, for 6 months of the year and kill 23,000 dolphins.
If this were the full story, it would be horrific enough but, as with all good thrillers, the rot goes much deeper. The town’s ‘Whale Museum’, with its family friendly dolphin shows on one hand and selling dolphin meat with dangerously high levels of mercury in its gift shop (as well as to the towns schools) on the other.
Every good thriller needs engaging characters, on both sides, and The Cove delivers. Our hero is Ric O’Barry. The man whose work training dolphins on the Flipper TV show started the trend for keeping these creatures for entertainment. O’Barry is painted as a tragic figure, his guilt etched all over his weather beaten face. He has spent his life since Flipper trying to free captive dolphins and is consumed by the slaughter at Taiji. He gathers a crew to risk, at the very least, arrest to capture the events in the heavily guarded cove.
His nemesis is Japans representative on the International Whaling Commission who manages to explain, with a straight face, that killing dolphins is actually “pest control” as they eat fish, and that now that whale stocks have replenished since the ban on whaling in the 80’s there really is no reason not to reverse the ban. This kind of backwards thinking and an absolute unwillingness to accept any other opinion makes this a riveting rival for O’Barry’s band of outlaws.
It’s pretty safe to say that I think The Cove is a wonderful film. It seems to be activism on a small scale until the full implications are revealed. It is made wonderfully, with its night vision surreality making way for the daylight horror of the slaughter.
I can’t get my head around what comes next though. I can’t understand how this film exists, for everyone to see, and nothing much has changed. I can’t get my head around how this can possibly be ignored. How the Japanese public can stomach it. How the government aren’t horribly embarrassed and ashamed by it. How people could watch it and not demand that things be different. I just can’t get my head around it. Maybe the big wide world can help. Any ideas? What happens next?