11 July 2010

Dear Zachary/The Cove

Alej has this idea that I love sad movies. It's really that I appreciate endings that are real, and things don't always end happily in real life. So a movie that ends sadly, or on a non-happy note, doesn't make me angry. That being said, I really have to psych myself up to watch some documentaries because I know they're going to be sad, and that they will probably make me angry and make me cry. Okay, I have seen some docs lately that didn't make me cry, like  Man On Wire, It Might Get Loud, and Wordplay. However, with other movies, like Sharkwater and The End of the Line it's a forgone conclusion that I will get upset.  So, when I decided to watch The Cove, I knew what I was in for. Dear Zachary, on the other hand, had a compelling trailer and I didn't really know what to expect going into it.

What intrigued me most about Dear Zachary was that it took place in Newfoundland while I was living in the Maritimes and I'd never heard anything about it. Granted, I've gone through a number of self-imposed media blackouts in my life, so it's possible I was being actively ignorant of the news. But still, I was surprised to learn about this appalling story. I won't give away too much as I think everyone should experience it first hand. Essentially, Andrew Bagby, a young American doctor who trained at Memorial but was back living in the states, was murdered by his ex-girlfriend, a native of Newfoundland. Before she could be charged with murder, she fled back to St.John's. She then announced that she was carry his child. The parents of the murdered doctor drop everything and move to St. John's to fight for their Grand-parental rights. The movie has two narratives: one that focuses both on the life of Andrew, and one that focuses on his parent's struggle with the Canadian Justice system and forced relationship with their son's murderer. Andrew was clearly well-loved by everyone who knew him. His death left people broken with grief in many countries. His parents, too, are amazing people. What they went through when they lived in Canada, and what they continue to go through is incredible. Our justice system and child protective services failed them miserably, and so they've dedicated their lives to make our system better. Yes, it's a sad movie and if you foster any illusions about our great Justice system you will be put in your place. It's also a very powerful movie about family and sacrifice.  And, as an added bonus, unlike other docs I may recommend this won't make you feel guilty about eating fish.

The Cove, on the other hand, will certainly make you feel guilty for eating dolphin, if not fish. This film, while dressed up as an espionage-type thriller and purporting to be about human health concerns, is basically a 90 minute argument for why the Taiji dolphin slaughters should be stopped. Most shocking about the film, perhaps, is that an argument even needs to be made.

There's not much I can "give away" about this movie. I mean it's not as if telling you it ends in a gutwrenchingly inhuman slaughter of hundreds of helpless sentient dolphins is going to spoil it for you, you know? The movie follows a ragtag bunch of people as they attempt, illegally, to obtain footage of the slaughter. I say "the" but please know that there are many slaughters, every year. There is, in fact, a dolphin slaughter season which runs for a few months every year. The film group includes camera people, ex-military, some guy who founded an eco group, and, quite awesomely, Canadian free diver Mandy Cruikshank. Free diving scares the shit out of me, I like my diving to be accompanied by tanks full of live-giving oxygen, but this girl is pretty damn amazing. Together they plant cameras in the secret Cove and underwater, they also plant hydro-acoustic devices. The mange to film the slaughter in technicolor surround sound quality. All the better to show to Japanese audiences.

A lot of the movie is about Ric O'Barry, who was Flipper's trainer and blames himself for the worldwide obsession with dolphins that has lead to their imprisonment in aquariums and sea parks. I thought I had environmentalist guilt, but this guy makes me look like callous. I wonder if he and Peter Benchley ever got together for drinks? The could have started a support group for men who singlehandedly set in motion mass aquatic extinctions. The movie makes a very good case for the fact that dolphins aren't fish, and they aren't animals as we traditionally view them. Dolphins are very smart, they have self awareness, and when they're trapped in that Cove dying slowly they are aware of what it happening to them. Then they pull out the mercury poisoning card, saying that dolphins shouldn't be killed for their meat because of the high levels of mercury that are harmful to human health. I hate this argument. I realize that it is necessary because some people just won't care unless they themselves may be harmed. However, I wish people would still care if, instead of "we shouldn't kill dolphins because eating them will harm us" we said "we shouldn't kill dolphins because we shouldn't kill dolphins." There was also lots about how ineffective the IWC is and how Japan is like some cancer working within it, taking good nations and buying them off. The IWC stuff made me so angry. Japan claiming that the whales are eating all the fish and need to be killed to preserve the fish stocks. Holy Christ. How can they make that argument with a straight face?

There's really not much to say about the slaughter scene at the end. It appeared as though the "fishermen" just stood on their boats and stabbed blindly into the red water until every dolphin was dead. Hardly a quick or humane death. The worst part was the thrashing. Even if you look away from the screen, you can still hear them die.

Boy, I bet you really want to see it now, eh? Well, for levity's sake, I should say that about part-way through the movie I thought to myself "this is the first marine doc I've seen without Boris Worm!" and not two seconds later, they quoted a paper he'd written on the world-wide decline in fish stocks. An, Boris. I can't escape you.

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