I expected the film to focus on the capture and captivity of dolphins for marine mammal parks. It touches on that, but it's mostly about the slaughter of the dolphins that aren't selected for entertainment purposes. Most of the film is centered on the industry in Taiji, Japan, and the practices there are pretty horrific. I had no idea that dolphins were intentionally captured to be killed. Apparently, the fishermen sell the meat.
As a meat eater, I was careful not to let my moral outrage erupt too quickly while watching the movie. Just because I wouldn't eat dolphin doesn't mean I have the moral high ground, because I eat cow and pig and chicken and occasionally sheep. I thought maybe it was just a cultural thing. As one might expect, the film illustrates the intelligence of dolphins as a point against their utilization as food. But the film also reveals that intentional consumption of dolphin meat isn't a widespread practice in Japan. Most of the time it's sold labeled as something else. Further, the film points out that dolphin meat isn't even a healthy choice due to its high levels of mercury. It didn't take long before I agreed that eating dolphin meat, if not categorically wrong, is at least a bad decision.
So basically, this movie did exactly what a documentary should; it made me aware of something I hadn't been before. What surprised me though, was how suspenseful it was. The fishing/whaling industry in Taiji is incredibly secretive about their practices, and the filmmakers had to put themselves in peril to get the footage of the actual slaughter. I would say it was worth it. The scenes of the dolphins being killed are almost beyond description. The water was literally blood red, and many of the dolphins could be seen swimming after being wounded. Matt was even tempted to fast-forward past the graphic part. The disturbing nature of these images lends power to the film, the power to provoke thought, and hopefully action, in turn.
In addition to providing information and nail-biting moments, the film includes a brief but compelling personal narrative of Ric O'Barry. O'Barry is the trainer behind the 1960's television show Flipper and near the beginning of The Cove he confesses he feels partially responsible for the popularity of dolphins as attractions at marine parks. This casts his current level of activism, which involves numerous arrests, in a rather interesting and even inspiring light. His story would be a fantastic work of fiction and as truth it's even more fascinating.
I will conclude by saying that I highly recommend The Cove, and I also recommend checking out their Take Action website. I don't usually go out of my way to promote causes, but such a pointless act of cruelty really is worthy of attention. Or maybe it was just the strangely appropriate and oh-so-inspiring use of Bowie's "Heroes" at the close of the film that drove me to write this.