8.11 h 23 min2013X-RayPG-13
Killer whales are beloved, majestic, friendly giants, yet infamous for their capacity to kill viciously. Blackfish unravels the complexities of this dichotomy, employing the story of the notorious performing whale Tilikum, who -- unlike any orca in the wild -- has taken the lives of several people while in captivity. Blackfish expands on the discussion of keeping such ...
Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Kim AshdownKen BalcombSamantha Berg
English [CC]
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EnglishEnglish [Audio Description]
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Manuel V. Oteyza
Magnolia Pictures
PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
Content advisory
Violencefoul language
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4.7 out of 5 stars

4268 global ratings

  1. 84% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 9% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 5% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 1% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 2% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

Amazon CustomerReviewed in the United States on January 7, 2014
4.0 out of 5 stars
Watch the film and then get some more information about Orcas
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A lot of people here seem to get most of their information about killer whales from the documentary and therefore don't have as much knowledge as they should in order to actually judge the situation of captive Orcas.
I've gone through some of the negative reviews and a lot of them show that people have no clue about what's actually going on and misinterpreted a lot of the statements made in the movie. One compares killer whales to other captive animals, mammals, reptiles and so on. To even put reptiles into one category with these whales, is downright ridiculous. And of course, all zoos and animal theme parks, safari parks, whatever, should be closed and the animals released, whenever possible. But I don't know whether an alligator would be happier in the swamp than it is in a zoo pool, but I know for sure, that Orcas and other intelligent mammals are suffering in captivity.

Another reviewer criticizes the statement made in the movie, that killer whales do not display aggressive behavior in the wild. The movie made completely clear that this statement refers to whale on whale behavior, not on hunting and killing prey. Killer whales are apex predators and of course, they're killers, and they kill because they need food, not because they are aggressive animals. Killer whales in the wild don't ram another whale with such force as to break jaws and bleed to death. They may do that to their prey, but not to each other. And to one of the reviewers who claims that SeaWorld knows much more about Orcas than scientists, because SeaWorld watches the animals all the time, and marine scientists just get to see them for a few hours: what is your point? Orcas in captivity don't behave like the ones in the wild, so the knowledge gleaned from SeaWorld footage means next to nothing. And there is extensive research on wild Orcas being done all the time, so yes, marine biologists do know a thing or two about Orcas.
No Orca in the ocean hangs at the same spot for hours and hours on time, doing nothing. They're on the move, all the time. They're not locked up. They are with their families, and here we come to one of the most horrible things being done to those animals: separating families. And I'm not just talking about the ones captured in the ocean. I am also talking about the fact, that marine parks, SeaWorld among them, keep on shipping the whales from park to park, separating calves from their mothers on a
regular basis. They don't stop at breaking up families in the ocean, they keep on doing it to the captive whales too.

Ever heard of Corky? She was mentioned once in the movie, unfortunately not enough information. She was a few years old when she was taken away from her mother in 1969, she's the killer whale who lives in captivity longer than any of the others. In 1993, almost a quarter century after she was torn away from her family, they gave her a chance to listen to vocalizations of her family. According to witnesses, she visibly started shaking and vocalizing poignantly for a long time. Any questions?

What about the mother whale in the movie, who cried and cried because they took her baby away? Did it sound like grief to you? It sure did to me.
Another reviewer says the film is manipulating viewers, for instance showing an infant whale and making it look like they're being taken away from their mothers while they're still infants. Well, if you got that impression, you didn't pay attention. But there's this: killer whales stay with their mothers almost all of their lives (and with extended family, like siblings) and if you ask me, it's almost worse to take them away at a few years of age, because by then they're already used to being with their family all the time!

And no, the movie is not lying about the lifespan of wild whales. I had to laugh at the shameless lies of the SeaWorld reps who told visitors of the park, that Orcas in the wild ,have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years and actually live longer in the park, because of all the great vet care! What BS! Orcas in captivity are sick most of the time, suffering from skin diseases, intestinal problems, dental problems and numerous infections. Antibiotics are a part of their regular diet. Why? Because they live in unnatural circumstances and that makes them sick!

I know it's a worn out comparison but it's valid nevertheless: imagine being locked up in a swimming pool (doesn't have to be a bath tub) for most of your life and not losing it! No matter what you do, no amount of enrichment, entertainment and other well meaning, but ill conceived efforts will be enough to replace the experience of living in the ocean, with your family of origin.

In the end, my opinion about the movie is this: for people who don't have any previous knowledge about the whole issue, some of the movie info can be confusing, misleading, definitely incomplete. I am suggesting to go out and get some books and read up on it.
Nevertheless, the movie started a necessary learning process for many people, who where thinking (like me many years ago) that those animals are doing just fine in captivity. That is just not true.And thanks to efforts like this documentary we're moving slowly but surely towards a future where eventually no more marine mammals will be in prison.
12 people found this helpful
Sara ReaderReviewed in the United States on January 26, 2014
5.0 out of 5 stars
Absolutely necessary for understanding our responsibility to other intelligent beings
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I was astounded by Blackfish in a number of different ways.

1. Horrifying. We watched together as a family and all agreed that it was gut wrenching to learn and to really have it brought home that captive animals like the majestic Tilikum, instead of being honored and revered are continually, brutally and unrelentingly abused. From the outset when he was ripped from his mother and his pod as an infant and the members of his community protested and attempted to rescue him (yes, you heard me) to the final view of Tilikum, alone in a pool isolated from his own, we were horrified for him and what is says about who so many humans are. A day does not go by now when i don't become active on the net, for majestic creatures, in general, and for Tilikum, in particular. The day he is released into a life of freedom and care will be a spiritually important one for reversing the bleak cruelty that marks the souls of the perpetrators.

2. Relevance to all that occurs when money means more than life. A remarkable documentary about why the abuse suits the
conglomerate of owners, likely, shareholders and "benefactors" of Sea World. The continual barrage of disinformation, propaganda,
misrepresentation and distortion about the needs of marine mammals, why such a large majestic animal would attack his "handlers and the placing of blame for their deaths on the human handlers. Actually, I partly agree, since they went along with keeping Tilikum in captivity, lying about the effects of that captivity on the health and welfare of the the animals in their charge and putting on smiling faces while forcing a wild animal to act like a cute little pet for millions of shrieking customers/visitors to the park (or zoo).

The argument that people can learn to love these animals and fight for their welfare is specious, since the animals' welfare is kept from the audience with disinformation and misinformation.

3. Excellent portrayal of the mechanisms and issue of behavior modification. Excellent for general psychology classes, social psychology classes, psychology of prejudice classes (many humans think it is ok to abuse animals, because they are lower down on the evolutionary scale than we, the most dominant animal). I am a social, environmental and clinical psychologist and will be showing this to my undergraduate classes for the environmental issues, misapplication of behavior modification (yes, it works to deprive a less dominant living being of food to get them to behave as you wish), it just isn't ethical, Sure you can control the food supply and make an animal do what you want. Nothing new in that, It's just vulgar to do so. Schedules of reinforcement, drive states, shaping and chaining behavior, its all there, just in a disturbing and fascist format. Nothing new in human behavior in the human-human equation or the human-animal one, just bleak and grotesque in 2013. Moral and ethical behavior, do the owners, stockholder of Sea World have any/ Tea Party who cares so much about core American Values, where are you in this question? No where to be seen, of course.

4. Tilikum deserves better. Punished due to his enormous size from infancy on, deprived of stimulation and kept captive in a way if done to humans would be tantamount to keeping someone in a 5X3 dark box without food for 14-16 hours a day for years and years from the age of one and then blaming him/her for winding up unbalanced or angry, or more likely poorly socialized. People have made Tilikum the culprit rather than the end point of incredible human stupidity, brutality and indifference to the beauty, authority and power of this special creature. Tiikum is prologue to the consistent way the human money machine is grinding up the living land and seas and the way that humans who care about capital over life deny the rights of the living so they can own, profit and violate the living.

See it for yourselves for it offers these perspectives not by preaching, but , by documenting and much more. Tilikum, This is review is a love note to you. I will work so one day you will be free of the burden of doing the "man's" work which puts you and those around you at risk, every day.

You really aren't a fish, I know that, but a majestic mammal with a coherent community and language, who, in the wild could have
captivated us and challenged the seas. May the hopes, actions and many dreams of those who have learned about your plight and who care about allowing you a natural and supportive outcome be carried on the wind and change the direction of your life and ours.
4 people found this helpful
BubbaGReviewed in the United States on November 18, 2013
3.0 out of 5 stars
Short on Facts
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I viewed this documentary on Instant Video. I should say that my overall impression might be a bit biased, as I had read a good deal about this film in advance. I had seen the critics reviews and listened to some of the public commentary at various sites. This perhaps has led to a few somewhat biased and unrealistic expectations that were not fulfilled.

I have always held negative feelings towards the idea of keeping large ocean mammals in captivity. I am not completely against the notion of keeping or displaying captive animals for the purpose of conservation, public educational, or even entertainment. It's just that when dealing with animals the size of Orca's, it stretches reason to conclude that one can provide an environment with enough space and stimulation to adequately mimic their natural environment. The sterile confines of an empty concrete pool are so far removed from the daily life of such an animal that one can conclude that such an environment is not suitable for captivity. In a sense, then, this documentary was preaching to the choir in regards to my personal viewership. I will therefore reserve my comments to the actual merits of the film as a documentary.

Overall, the documentary itself is professionally-made and has enough material to keep your interest. From an emotional standpoint, it is exactly what you would expect to see from such a documentary and the director relies heavily on the empathy of the viewer to get the point across. And this is where I think the film falls short--both in what it does and what it doesn't do.

In my opinion, the film relies too heavily on emotion as the primary ingredient and falls short on facts. There are tidbits of information that are provided by a number of the participating scientists. However, I was hoping for more information than was provided, For example, we are told about the collapsed dorsal fin that plagues captive Orcas, but are not provided with any information on what negative effects this has on the whale's health or ability to swim. The trainers also provide little in the way of information and appear to be there as emotional props. They readily share their intimate feelings on the subject but provide little in the way of information on the day-to-day activity of a Seaworld trainer interacting with orcas. We only hear about the undesirable aspects of the job.

There is also the anthropomorphizing element that pervades the film. A neurologist is brought in to tell us that Orcas are complex emotional creatures with a wide range of complex thoughts and feelings, just like us, perhaps even more so. Apparently, one subject was even examined inside a CT Scan. In a nuthsell, we are told that these aquatic mammals are just like us in almost every way, except for the fins and blowhole. The neurologist seems to be implying that any behavior that resembles the result of human volition equates to the same in the animal itself. The truth is, any truly objective scientist would tell us that we simply don't know what is going on inside the mind of an animal when talking about emotions and their relation to specific instances of behavior. In short, nobody can accurately read the thoughts of another being--no matter how intelligent that being may be. Why did the whale Tilikum decide to pull Dawn Brancheau into the water on that specific day and time and specific place? The truth is, nobody can say with certainty. All anyone can do is offer personal opinion, or at best, informed conjecture.

There are also a number of contradictions in the film. In an interview, a trainer tells us that Tilikum should not be used as a stud animal due to his aggressive nature. The inference seems to be that Tilikum has a genetic predisposition to aggression. However, throughout the film, it is implied that the aggressive behavior of Tilikum is due to the neurotic tendencies brought about by years of captivity, deprivation and abuse. Which left me somewhat confused. Which is it? Is Tilikum genetically predisposed to these incidents of aggressive and hostile behavior or was it brought on by the environmental factors just mentioned? Again, I think any reasonable scientist would conclude that we just don't know. Animal behavior is not an exact science. There are no certainties when dealing with animals.

Given the unpredictable nature of wild animals, one can readily reach a sound conclusion, via common sense: regardless of whether or not it is ethical to keep Orcas in captivity, it is probably not a good idea to get in the water with a penned-up six-ton Orca. We need OSHA to tell us this? One cannot know with certainty its mental state at all times, and when a six-ton Orca decides to go off, the result isn't going to be pretty. Therefore, regarding the incidents with trainers, I see it as simply the result of the unpredictable nature of a wild animal. If you play with fire, you are eventually going to get burned. Things may go fine 99% of the time, but is that 1% worth the risk? Apparently a lot of Seaworld trainers believe so.

Overall, the film had too much of a preachy undertone to it for my tastes--enough to be a bit irritating at times. Right from the start, the director pulled out the trump card of emotions, as if it was assumed that the audience would be too dumb to figure things out on their own, using just facts and a more tempered approach. It was like we were being told what we should believe, not what we should conclude. The end result appears to come across as an attempt by the director to shame and enrage the viewer into never daring to attend Seaworld ever again.

Distinctly absent from the film is any realistic and practical solution to the problem of captive Orcas. Simply calling for an end to captivity and an end to Seaworld makes for a good rally cry but does not represent a practical solution to the issue. What do we do with these animals after the closure? If you simply let them go, they will likely meet a quick death in the wild. There is mention of a 'Sea Pen' for the whales to live out their lives. But who will pay to implement and maintain such a structure? Nobody offers any realistic proposals. The film simply ends.

The biggest fault of Blackfish, therefore, is that it represents a shallow play on emotions, a rally cry that falls well short of addressing the really important question -- where do we go from here? Lost in all of the tears and outrage is the fact that when it's all said and done, the Orcas will still remain. Although I sympathize with a good number of the opinions presented in the film, I find it to be at times too naive and short-sighted. It is very effective in casting Seaworld as a villain, but not effective in providing any realistic options for the Orcas -- options that are tenable and practical.
19 people found this helpful
FadiReviewed in the United States on May 30, 2015
3.0 out of 5 stars
... is a movie that mainly tries to explain the terrible captivity for killer whales used for shows
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Blackfish is a movie that mainly tries to explain the terrible captivity for killer whales used for shows, more specifically at SeaWorld. Blackfish uses mostly logos about orcas to show how they are suffering by using scientific figures about their lives in the wild and comparing it to their miserable lives at SeaWorld. Blackfish uses Tillikum, an orca that was captured in 1983, as a main character from the orcas’ side. On the other hand, the movie uses former SeaWorld trainers, orca researchers and experts. The tragedy theme appears when it comes to the trainers. It’s kind of showing that the trainers were also victims of SeaWorld’s lies. The pathos and ethos appeals are evident in the movie when it covers the trainers, researchers, experts or even public media side. These emotions show how the movie tries to exonerate many guilty sides and blame only SeaWorld and the similar firms by using lots of pathos on the trainers’ side while the main victim is the orca. However, the trainers notices many times that SeaWorld does wrong thing, the researchers knew from before that SeaWorld lies, and the public media publishes what SeaWorld says. I think the movie ignores all of the trainers’ acts and makes them victims, avoids talking about the silence of the researchers and media, and directs all the blames against SeaWorld.
Blackfish starts with flashback showing footage from Dawn’s death with music and people talking in the background. The short flashback shows that there is a crime. After the flashback, the movie starts with interviewing some former SeaWorld trainers. The pathos appeal is clear here. Emotional moments, reasons behind trainers joining SeaWorld, and emotional music and effects make the viewer love them and just want to hear about their experiences. I think we can say its pathos to make the trainers’ ethos; after all the emotions the movie makes the viewers feel about trainers; they are now, no doubt, honest people. In an emotional way, Blackfish brings Dawn to life using trainers’ reviews and footage about her. After that, the movie brings SeaWorld to the scene using recording from an investigating with SeaWorld Paramedic, Thomas Tobin, followed by public media’s footages show the anger of people. All these direct the anger of watchers towered SeaWorld. All what have been mentioned up to this point shape the wonder, why all the researchers, media and many other responsible departments waited until someone died to do something. Basically, the production makes me feel that we don’t stand against injustice; if we do, it’s not until it’s against humans. One of the footage archive from CNN in Blackfish a news anchor says “If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little irritated, aggravated, maybe a little psychotic?!”. The anchor is attacking Thad Lacinak, Former SeaWorld Executive, with these words. Therefore, people knew it was wrong, but no one have stand against it until Dawn’s death.
Back to he root, the logos appeals cover this part where in Blackfish they talks about hunting the killer whales. Figures and some information about hunting the whales are shown. At this part also, John Crowe, a whale hunter, talks about his adventures with hunting whales. I noticed that in his part there is no music or emotional effects. Some emotions come from the way John talks, but in Blackfish John Crowe mentions that although he knew it was wrong to hunt whales, he did it anyway. Blackfish doesn’t show hunters being really guilty. Although this class of society, hunter, is not enough educated to figure out how wrong is the act they are doing, they still are guilty, because as I mentioned, John Crowe knew that, but he didn’t stop. Now Blackfish starts talking about Tilikum. He was hunted in 1983 and brought to SeaLand. The logos appeals still there, actually, most of the talks about whales are logistic. Blackfish shows that SeaWorld was lying about some facts related to whales. The age, the fact of the dorsal fin and that the killer whales live better and longer by them, all these were lies by SeaWorld. The concern is why the public media and researchers didn’t respond to that, did they know they were lying? In Blackfish, Howard Garrett, an orca researcher, said “We knew by 1980, after half a dozen years of research, that they live equivalent to human life spans. And every potentially embarrassing fact is twisted and turned and denied one way or another”. So they knew it. One of the pathos appeals comes with whales is when they separate the baby whale, Kalian, from her mom, Katina. That part is very emotional, it makes the watcher feel it’s human baby being separated from her mom. The trainers, as they mention, knew there was something wrong but they didn’t do anything.
Blackfish brings also some stories and footage about accident happened by killer whales. Pathos is included in most the stories were they bring relative of victims to talk about it. Two ladies narrated one story about Keltie Byrne who was killed by Tilikum before SeaWorld bought him in emotional way. In the story about Byrne, the news paper lied or ignored this!. Many other stories are mentioned but public media and responsible companies ignored all of them. The most effective part in the whole movie is in Spain, when Estefania Rodriguez talks about her fiancé Alexis Martinez, Loro Parque Trainer, who was killed by killer whale. This part was full of emotional feelings that make audience cry. Another face in this part was the bad face of the companies that’s responsible for all these insane acts. That face appears when the managers came to the hospital with their lawyers and all they care about is to show that they were innocent. At the last, Blackfish brings the story of Dawn Brancheau, The main story, and starts blaming SeaWorld in order to direct the facts and stories in the movies toward it. However, the analyzing of Dawn accident by the trainers and experts at the end makes viewer thinks it was Dawn fault. The Blackfish ends telling what was the reaction and judgments on SeaWorld and trying to convince audiences to stand against this institution.
​In conclusion, Blackfish shows the guilt of SeaWorld and many other similar companies by using many sides witnessing against them. Blackfish, some how, shows that there are another guilty sides, however, the pathos appeals reject audience from realizing that. We can’t make full judgment since SeaWorld didn’t participated, but if they had, I think the only thing they can say is “ we’re not the only guilty side”.
One person found this helpful
Brian O'RourkeReviewed in the United States on September 19, 2022
5.0 out of 5 stars
Eye opening. A+
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This film is an eye opener about amusement parks that aggressively kidnap highly intelligent animals in order to exploit them for monetary gains. Sad.
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ForeverYOUNGReviewed in the United States on November 23, 2013
5.0 out of 5 stars
Worth the conversation
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Wow. There are a lot of really intense reviews about this movie. Please remember that we all have the right to have an opinion and I am not trying to make any one change their minds or believe the way I do.
First, the movie is very one sided. Having said that, it is important to see what is happening and even the one sided approach can spark conversations that will lead to much needed changes.
Second, Sea World had an opportunity to comment. They declined. That speaks volumes to me and leads me to believe they may have been less than honest. I would have liked to have heard their "side."
That being said, you cannot completely discount the accounts of the persons who were actually involved with these particular animals.
I believe it is a sincere and horrible tragedy that these animals have been captured at all, ever.
I think this movie is worth a viewing and a conversation. I gave it 5 stars for the POSSIBILITY that it could have a positive impact on how we see this magnficent animals. Orcas, also known as "killer whales" are actually dolphins. And to date, there has never been a recorded "attack" on humans in the wild. I think this important to note. In fact, the just the opposite as with smaller species of dolphins. And they have unique "personalities"... not unlike humans. I am fortunate enough to live in Oregon and not far from where we hosted Keiko (Free Willy) for some time as they attempted to "rehabilitate" Keiko enough to release him. Sadly, that ended tragically. And in Keiko's case, I wish they had never released him. Clearly he was very deeply imprinted on humans and sought out gentle contact with them even after his release. I believe that while Tilikum and Keiko were both orcas, they are were clearly different in temperament. I don't think you can discount temperament either. Sadly Tilikum has proven that he has the capcity to harm and the willingness to do so. Further, I was shocked to hear that the "trainers" at Sea World are NOT trained or educated at all. You can walk off the street and apply to be a "trainer." If you can swim, have an appealing personality and physical appearance, you're in. No real education, no real training, not even a high school diploma. Disappointing. However, to me that puts more of the burden of responsibility squarely on Sea World for the safety of their "trainers."
I hope that if you chose to watch this movie that you do so with an open mind and heart. It's NOT a perfect movie. I wish there had been more information from the "other" side, however, the film still has value in my opinion.
6 people found this helpful
HayMickVikingReviewed in the United States on November 10, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
Think like an orca, and see the ugly truth of Sea World.
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This documentary is so utterly important for humans to watch and absorb. Whether you're a religious/spiritual person or an atheist/agnostic, the fact, not opinion, but fact remains, that we share this planet with beings who have lives of their own. They aren't here to serve me, you, ANY other human. At the end of this beautiful, horrifying documentary, I wasn't crying, I was sobbing. For those who were killed, for those who were nearly killed, for the countless traumatised, but most of all, for Tilikum, and the other slaves. What does one have to do in order to get humans to relate, to understand, to even sympathise? Do we have to be like Jake Brigance and say, "Imagine she's white," to get Sea World to understand the atrocity that they are? Fine. Imagine you're at on the road with your family, having dinner with the kids, getting ready for tomorrow's next few hundred miles...when suddenly stranger danger. Your family is cornered with no means of escape, and the strangers abduct your children. You never see them again. That POV has only been depicted in human stories, but the fate of the kids is far worse. They are sold into slavery, forced to perform stupid tricks, and imprisoned in cages far too small for their bodies. One evil trainer decides that withholding food as 'punishment' for refusal to do stupid tricks is a good idea. Who is this sadist? In essence this unnamed trainer at Sealand in BC created a nonhuman serial killer. But I place no blame on the slave who was involved in that 1991 death. It was just a matter of time. The best thing to have done then and there was to have put Tilikum down and set his broken spirit free. Perhaps even setting him free near Iceland, where he was abducted, would have been a viable option. But no. Instead, the slave is taken to Suck World Orlando USA and turned into a sex slave. One of his daughters nearly kills a man in the other Sea World park. In fact, numerous incidents of injuries and near death encounters with orca whales are concealed from the public and from the company's OWN TRAINERS! The people who risk life and limb to enter the water with these traumatised slaves! Tilikum finally died, never knowing what freedom felt like. They say it was a bacterial infection. How about a broken heart? Wow, Sea lie, you point fingers of blame at dead people, and you arrogantly claim that slaves have a great life in captivity. You are right up there with Trump and Yeezy. You really do suck. My mum never took me to your plantation, and I am ever so grateful. Again, whether you believe in a Great Spirit or no, such sin, such evil, so wrong on so many levels. RIP Ms. Byrne, Mr. Dukes, Ms. Brancheau and Tilikum.
55 people found this helpful
joel wingReviewed in the United States on March 23, 2022
4.0 out of 5 stars
Shocking and emotional
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Blackfish is a documentary that tries to explain how a Sea World trainer was killed by a Killer Whale in 2010. The story gets surprisingly emotional at times like when they tell the story of how they originally captured the whales. There are other moments like that as the story becomes one about systemic abuse. The movie is really amazing. Once you start watching it you can’t stop and this is a traditional documentary with one talking head after another which I really don’t like. It’s also shocking because I used to go see Killer Whale shows when I was a kid. I had no idea the story behind them.
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