Directed by: Louie Psihoyos
Premise: A documentary film about a group of activists attempting to document the slaughter of dolphins in an oceanic cove in Taiji, Japan.
What Works: The Cove is a challenging activist documentary. The film has a lot of interesting components to it but rather than feel disjointed, the collective sections contribute to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The film is partially a profile of animal trainer Richard O’Barry who once trained the dolphins on the set of the television show Flipper but now works against captivity of marine mammals. The film also provides a portrayal of activism in action as the filmmakers attempt to expose what is happening in the cove by trespassing and planting remote camera equipment. The Cove crosscuts these narratives with an exploration of the tradition of dolphin hunting and connects Japan’s fishing industry to political corruption and cases of mercury poisoning from seafood. This is an enraging but also empowering film that demonstrates the influence of food corporations on political structures and the manipulation of cultural issues, but it also shows how resistance to these forces is not futile and can achieve results.
What Doesn’t: The major flaw of The Cove is in what it takes for granted. As an argument, the film is completely dependent upon the viewer believing that dolphins are as intelligent as human beings and therefore deserve humane treatment. The film does not entertain the notion that a carnivorous (or at least omnivorous) diet could be ethical or the extent to which people anthropomorphize dolphins and ascribe them with human emotions that they may not really possess. As a result, The Cove’s argumentation leans heavily on emotional appeals without a lot of logic or rationality behind it.
DVD extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes, and featurettes.
Bottom Line: The Cove is a very well made documentary that has implications larger than the immediate circumstances it depicts. The film has some shortcomings in its argument but The Cove’s overall message is important enough to warrant a viewing.
Episode: #275 (February 7, 2010)