Friday, February 24, 2017

The Cove (2009)

For decades, the number of dolphin-related sectors has increased all over the world. As reported by Showley, Dolphin Stadium is, not surprisingly, Sea World San Diego’s most popular attractions. Apparently, Sea World San Diego isn’t the only enterprise that utilizes dolphin for entertainment. The ever increasing demand for dolphin, sadly, has resulted in a series of problems. In 2009, director Louie Psihoyos exposed the extent of this problem through the release of his highly controversial documentary, The Cove. Through an analysis of the context of the movie, the intended audience, the purpose of the movie, and the point of view of the producer, this essay aims to explore whether The Cove is a successful venture.

The Cove is a reality documentary that explores Taiji dolphin drive hunt in Taiji, Wakayama, Japan. This dolphin hunt has been carried out annually from September to March since the 17th century. From the perspective of an environmental advocate who was baffled by the dolphin culling situation in Japan, The Cove depicts the journey of seeking the “truth” behind this lesser-known practice.

Interestingly, The Cove utilizes secret filming techniques, such as specialized camouflaged high-definition cameras to capture what the film-makers were encountering, and by doing so, The Cove attempts to portray real life. However, since the production doesn’t have the consent of all involved parties, especially of the fisherman and the Japanese officials, Ric O'Barry, the protagonist, states in the film, "Today they would kill me if they could. And I'm not exaggerating, if these fishermen could catch me and kill me, they would." Due to the illegal nature of the movie’s production, many viewers find this documentary particularly fascinating, as what is presented in the movie seems to have been a mystery from the public for hundreds of years. Therefore, the film intends to attract the general public, particularly the animal activists as well as entertainment seekers.

With regard to the actual general audience, The Cove scores high across the board in all categories, with the average mean score of 8.5 at IMDb. More notably, the film apparently leaves a better impression on the younger generation (age group below 30) than the older generation (age group above 45). A plausible explanation is that the film strongly criticizes a traditionally common practice, which the older age group has a higher tendency to preserve and protect than the younger generation does.

Throughout the movie, director Psihoyos also highlights the Japanese authority’s unwillingness to stop this practice. As a result, Psihoyos calls for actions from the public against this practice by proposing several solutions to this problem, such as ethical consumerism and conservation awareness. The Cove uses ethos appeals by interviewing various Japanese officials and fishermen from Taiji to get their personal opinions on the matters. Since this practice is typically hidden from the public, interviewing those who have experienced this norm on a daily basis makes the movie seem credible. However, not all ethos appeal is convincing. After the release of the movie, many people who are in the movie sued the producers for lying prior to the interviews and editing some of their answers (to paint a more negative picture of the situation).

Most of the time, the film plays up pathos appeal, by highlighting the likability of the dolphins, and particularly zooming into the scenes when fishermen start killing the dolphins. During those scenes, there is always slow melancholic music softly playing in the background. The film, in this case, functions as an emotional cue for viewers, so that the audience will empathize with the pain of the dying dolphins ("Sound" Handout). The movie also utilizes the interplay of ethos and logos, by interviewing various scholars to emphasize the health hazards of consuming dolphin meat, such as body deformities, fatal diseases, and genetic damages. Through ethos, logos, and pathos, The Cove aims to educate, entertain, and calls for actions from the general public against this practice.

The producer’s point of view is more liberal, as he advocates strongly for animal rights and challenges the norms. From the filming techniques, Psihoyos and the cast prove that they are willing to risk their lives to challenge this tradition for the good of nature conservationism. In my opinion, The Cove is successful in its intended purpose of entertainment and activism. The documentary receives widespread global recognition. According to Cronin, “activists pressured the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) to cut ties with its member group in Japan, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA)… Shortly after, JAZA released a statement saying that it would officially ban its members from acquiring dolphins from the Taiji dolphin drive fisheries." Furthermore, thanks to the movie, the public becomes more aware of the dangerously high mercury level in dolphin meat, and thus, the demand for dolphin meat steadily declines as a result. However, according to author Kirby, there’s still a long way to go, as the Japanese government and media strongly protect this multi-billion industry for the sake of the already slowing economy. Nevertheless, The Cove succeeds in heightening the public’s awareness. The ultimate aim of this documentary is stopping the excessive dolphin hunting, and the fact that the number of dolphin killings at the Cove dropped to its record low in 2014 testifies the success of this documentary. Since the movie leads to a record, quantifiable result, the movie deserves a 5/5 rating.

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