It’s impossible to watch this psychologically astute documentary without being moved to sadness or even outrage. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite clearly intends Blackfish as call to arms of sorts, an investigative piece about how massive orcas — more often known as “killer whales” — have been taken out of their natural habitat and transported to relatively cramped concrete swimming pools and made to do tricks for adoring humans of all ages. Cowperthwaite and her team look at how SeaWorld has made billions over the last 40 years off the backs of these beautiful, intelligent and acutely sensitive mammals and how their unnatural captivity has led to various violent outbursts.
The narrative opens with the tragic 2010 death of veteran SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who, during a show, was viciously attacked by Tilikum, a 12,000-pound orca. In an effort to understand why such behavior might occur, Blackfish traces Tilikum’s history, uncovering everything from his initial capture in 1983 to his ill-fated stay at Sealand, a Canadian park that sold the troubled whale to SeaWorld in 1991. While numerous former trainers and other experts give first-person testimony about SeaWorld’s practices and secretive, sometimes nefarious nature, the story inevitably suffers due to the lack of any comment on the part of the massively profitably company at the center of the controversy. Yet there’s no denying Blackfish’s emotional resonance. Opens Friday at Mariemont Theater. (PG-13) Grade: B