Film Review: 'The Cove' Oscar Winner for Best Documentary

Last night’s 82nd Annual Academy Awards was a pinnacle moment for many, including Kathryn Bigelow, who made history as the first woman to the Best Director Oscar. But besides the many big name winners, it was also a huge night for an eye-opening film, “The Cove,” which won the statue for Best Documentary Feature. The heart of “The Cove” is an urgent mission to bring awareness of and advocacy for dolphins—a message that can reach an even greater audience now that they have the huge recognition of an Oscar win.

Prior to the Oscars, I had the chance to check out the documentary (which is now out on DVD), since it has received many rave reviews and an audience award at Sundance last year. Directed by former National Geographic photographer Louis Psihoyos, the film closely follows a group of dolphin advocates, including the Oceanic Preservation Society and most notably, Ric O’Barry, who has an ironic back-story as a former dolphin trainer turned activist against dolphin captivity—the very industry he helped to create. In the 1960s, O’Barry was responsible for training five dolphins under captivity in the TV series "Flipper," which helped establish the now multi-billion dollar captivity industry. On a redemptive note, O’Barry says he spent 10 years building up the captivity industry and 35 years trying to tear it down.

After experiencing the death of one of his dolphins named Kathy, O’Barry couldn’t continue to deny the cruelty of the seemingly harmless act of dolphin captivity. Though dolphins seem to “smile” and appear happy when performing cute tricks for shows, their well-being is severely misunderstood—in actuality, the captured dolphins are stressed out and miserable, to the point where they get ulcers and in the case of Kathy, even commit suicide—wherein they choose not to take another breath, since they’re equipped with voluntary respiratory systems.

At the center of the film’s mission is to exploit and put an end to dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan, at a secretive site where Japanese fisherman drive dolphins into a hidden cove, killing about 23,000 dolphins annually. First dolphin trainers come in the cove to select dolphins for marine parks all around the world, at the cost of about $150,000 per dolphin, while the rest are slaughtered and sold as dolphin meat, for about $600 per dolphin.

The latter act of slaughtering dolphins was especially disturbing and nonsensical. The film follows the crew as they go on a dangerous, risky mission of sneaking into the cove and planting hidden cameras in order to capture the slaughtering on film. Completely inaccessible and under intense surveillance, no one outside has ever witnessed what goes on in the cove, as the town of Taiji and the Japanese government have effectively covered it up, creating a complete media blackout.

Though dolphin captivity is highly lucrative for the town of Taiji, the film explains how fisherman continue this act not necessarily because of money or politics, but because of nationalistic pride—the Japanese simply don’t want the West to tell them what to do.

The last portion of the documentary, which finally reveals the slaughtering of dolphins as captured on their film, is utterly shocking. Filled with the eerie sounds of dolphins loudly clicking and whistling in panic, we see the image of fishermen spearing dolphins, as they flounder around helplessly, filling the entire cove with a sea of blood.

The stark contrast between the image of the slaughtered dolphins in the red waters, followed by the ending scene of dolphins swimming carelessly and endlessly for miles in the ocean was quite daunting. It again reminds us of the tension between man vs. nature, and how more often than not humans are the ruthless perpetrators. The film even vaguely reminded me of Avatar, where you can’t help but root for nature to defeat mankind’s destructive purposes. Given the high pace of deterioration in the ocean, it’s absolutely crucial for more individuals to follow the lead of Ric O’Barry, Louis Psihoyos, and the Oceanic Preservation Society, to act and fight for the preservation of marine life.

The dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan will still continue every September unless we do something to stop it. To support the cause and help shut down the cove, check out the website TakePart, a Social Action Campaign for "The Cove," on how you can help out.