Life Inside a Bathtub

You wake up and notice something is off, you anxiously look around and you aren’t in your room. What happened? You were just sleeping in your house and had said goodnight to your parents. You look around, more scared than ever, and feel trapped. All you see are four walls surrounding you with barely any room to move. You cry, try to get out, and suddenly you have shaken yourself awake out of pure panic. Thankfully it was just a dream. However, this is the harsh reality for orcas that we see in the documentary, Blackfish. This documentary depicts how Seaworld captures and treats their orcas for their own financial gain to expose the cruel reality while also calling for a change. This film uses strong rhetorical strategies, such as appealing to emotion and logic to express the danger and psychological trauma that captive orcas suffer through, explains the root of their violence towards Seaworld workers, and advocates for change and boycotts against Seaworld.

A Brief Introduction….

This documentary follows the shocking events after the Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau’s horrific death from an attack by Tilikum, a captive orca. Tilikum was captured from the wild as a young calf and was held captive until his death in 2017. The film captures the brewing anger that Tilikum must have faced from having no freedom all his life, being ripped away from the only family he knew, and being attacked by the other captive whales. The film also shines light on how all the workers and associates of Seaworld were told that Dawn’s cause of death was because of trainer error. Following her death and the public’s outrage, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration sued the Seaworld of Florida, claiming that the company is aware that putting trainers in the water with orcas is a safety concern yet they continue to do so. While this lawsuit was crucial for change, this documentary backtracks an orca’s life in captivity and depicts that the causes for violence against trainers is only natural.

Now Let’s Get Into It…

In Blackfish, specific types of clips and sounds are implemented to appeal to the audiences’ pathos. This leads them to understand some of the trauma that captive orcas suffer through. The movie begins with chilling, real-life 911 calls from Seaworld reporting killer whale attacks on trainers, leaving the audience with a feeling of uneasiness and discomfort from the start. Another strong auditorial technique that the film utilizes are audios of orcas screaming for help when caught captive. To supplement this audio, they show the young orca calves being caught from the sea while their mothers try to save them. One of the fishermen explains how they were directed to catch young calf orcas and recalls the mother orcas screaming for their calves back. Lastly, the movie uses dramatic music, moving the audience and having them on the edge of their seats as they watch the orcas get tortured. These clips evoke immense emotions within the viewers to a point where one can almost feel the constraint that the orcas experience as they get tied up from the catchers.

To support the strong use of auditory aids, the film uses vivid visuals to show the audience what really goes on in the life of these innocent orcas. They shed light on Tilikum’s treatment at Seaworld. The trainers would starve him for not performing well and this in turn led to all the orcas to get underfed. Furthermore, the film depicts where the orcas are left each night: a small 20 foot wide and 30 foot deep module, leaving all of them confined together. As revenge, other orcas would attack Tilikum and thrash him. The film shows his body, bloody and scratched up, yet still performing for an audience everyday. The vivid visual imagery and audio truly impact the audience’s point of view on the brutality orcas suffer through. This segues into the impending anger these orcas face when left in captivity. This is conveyed through the violent clips of orcas attacking Seaworld workers and the media blaming it on trainer error.

The documentary continues to strengthen their message with real-life interviews of people who worked directly with Seaworld or affiliated associations. They described how the orcas are treated and how their anger and frustration to the workers is only bound to happen. At the end of the documentary, it is noted that Seaworld declined being interviewed several times. This leads the audience to ask: if this were not true then why would they be scared to speak about this? The credibility of Seaworld is put into question. The film supplemented their arguments with an appeal to ethos, another strong rhetorical technique by asking real people who used to work alongside Seaworld and have firsthand knowledge of what happened when there was no audience.

These powerful examples of pathos and ethos throughout the movie depict the goals of Blackfish. The film successfully advocates for change and raises awareness on the scary truth of Seaworld as well as promotes to put an end to orca captivity. As a viewer, the first thing we ask after watching the movie is: what can we do to change how things are? The devastating story of Dawn Brancheau leads the audience to recognize that this is not normal and we want justice for her untimely death. This would not have happened if this establishment was not running.

The strategies used in Blackfish work together seamlessly to achieve this goal because the film does not lead us only with our emotions. We are guided by emotion but are given concrete examples and real experiences to supplement this horrific reality for a corrupt entertainment company. Usually the implementation of pathos results in the feeling of being overly emotional and letting that blur our judgement. However, with the strong examples, lawsuits, and real-life tapes, we are able to form a confident consensus that this a dangerous habitat for orcas to be confined to and that violence towards trainers is bound to be an outcome.

I believe Blackfish intended to reach all audiences and truly, this documentary successfully does so. Throughout the film, we are presented with strong and thorough uses of rhetorical devices. By doing so, the audience is able to resonate with the film and feel so much emotion for not only the orcas, but the trainers who were misinformed during their time at Seaworld. At the end of the film, they announce one change: trainers could no longer be in the water with orcas and they must be separated during all times. This targets the audience since we feel that something has changed, so we must have the power to do more. As a viewer, I felt that I had the power to fight for these animals who cannot fend for themselves. We have the power to make a difference. All these orcas can do is show their cries for help and fight for their freedom through violence. We are the people who support companies like Seaworld when we attend. Our part is easy: boycott these institutions. Don’t buy tickets. We have to be the ones to fight for these orcas since they cannot do it themselves.

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Sarah Soni

Sarah Soni

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