The Cove [PG-13]
Cast: Ric O’Barry
Director: Louis Psihoyos
I know. Everybody loves Flipper. And dolphins have a 7.4 trillion IQ. They split the atom 3,200 years before man walked the earth. Dolphin doctors are well known for selflessly treating earthquake victims in remote places. They’re uniformly sharp dressers. And they always remember their parents’ birthday on the birthday, not when they’re walking through the supermarket two days later.
In short, no species on the planet has gotten more PR mileage out of being really good at bouncing a beach ball on the nose. So you’re just waiting for that moment in The Cove when a dolphin expert says dolphins might be more intelligent than humans and that if we could only communicate, we might learn from them. Oh yeah. Like what? Better fishing techniques? Dolphin poetry? If dolphins are as smart as people say, then they’re the laziest little underachievers on the planet.
Among dolphinkind’s chief publicists is Ric O’Barry, whose fight for dolphin rights is the subject of The Cove. He says things like, “If there’s a dolphin in danger anywhere in the world, my phone will ring,” without a hint of humor. The goal of his team is to document a yearly killing of dolphins off the coast of Japan in an effort to expose it to the world.
The Cove asks us to sit in judgment of Japanese fishermen in the town of Taiji who each year capture and slaughter dolphins to eat and sell as food. Granted the pictures of locals wading around in a blood-thickened kill pool are rather unappetizing, and the fishermen’s methods aren’t very sporting. But a slaughterhouse for cows (sacred in some cultures), or chickens, or any animal wouldn’t make pretty pictures. We’re simply not accustomed to the notion of dolphins as food. Our culture has so thoroughly anthropomorphized dolphins that we can’t think of them this way.
The Cove makes a few points that are stronger. The first is suggesting that the Japanese are overhunting dolphins and failing to allow the stocks to replenish. The other is the presence of mercury poisoning in the food chain, a fact that makes some fish dangerous for humans to eat. Being high in the food chain, dolphin meat, the film says, is loaded with mercury (a fact we doltish wastes-of-space humans know while the super-geniuses of the sea cheerfully keep chomping contaminated fish). This is an issue that impacts many people, and the film’s discussion of it, as well as the politics of it, are well done.
As a film, The Cove has one card to play, and it doesn’t take long to know what to expect. It tries to fill time by depicting the rivalry between his team and the local police and fishermen. These tales are always less thrilling by the end than they appear at the beginning. The suspense seems more like exaggerated paranoia. It would help to have a little distance and perspective from the participants. The film is so supportive of its subject that It fails to make him a compelling character, something that most good documentaries can stand to have.