“You try to do the story legally,” says director Louie Psihoyos at the start of his rousing documentary film The Cove, speaking of the process by which he ideally would have liked to expose the tangled web that connects the sea parks of the world to a mysterious cove in Taiji, Japan, “a little town with a really big secret.” It’s also a motto emblematic of the particularly ballsy activist thrust of the film’s subject, Richard O’Barry, who blames himself for fueling the world’s obsession with parks such as SeaWorld because of his integral role in the television program Flipper. Devoted since the ‘60s to the freeing of dolphins from the cruelest of captivities, O’Barry conspires with Psihoyos’s crack team of cine-advocates to infiltrate—with hi-tech cameras and other gizmos supplied by the same company that created Jar-Jar Binks—the Taiji cove that both supplies the majority of the world’s sea parks with its dolphins and where the animals are mass slaughtered for their meat. The nature of empire is quickly broached: Japan, which has a monopoly on the global fish market and may single-handedly compromise the world’s marine ecosystem, emerges as a mincingly thuggish force buying its allies—from mostly black, impoverished Caribbean nations—on the International Whaling Commission stage, ever-trying to overturn the IWC’s ban on whaling. Psihoyos’s presence throughout is questionable, as are his concessions to popular taste (pop-doc shorthand like Japanese modern life evoked in fast-motion; scoring a bit about the natural grins of dolphins to a song about smiling), but the film’s alarmist tone is both justified and earned by the smooth and intelligent manner with which it weaves discussions about the psychology of dolphins, their relationships to humans, and the dangers of eating mercury-infested meat with O’Barry & Co.‘s mission to infiltrate the cove in Taiji where local fisherman fetch upwards of $150,000 per dolphin they take into captivity. The film staggeringly exposes the high-to-low complicity of many hands in the international captivity trade, though mostly it stands as a testament to one man’s activist spirit and a reminder of how all social progress comes from the passion of the individual.
- Roadside Attractions
- 94 min
- Louie Psihoyos
- Mark Monroe
- Richard O'Barry
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