Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Whale (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Whale

Even though the standard and overly sentimentalized "We Bought a Zoo" is playing on the other side of the island, sometimes our tendency to anthropomorphize animals in a film, that is to attribute human qualities to them, is well founded and actually pulls us in as human spectators. 
Case in point is the documentary "The Whale" directed by Susan Chisholm and Michael Parfit. The film which is produced and narrated by actor Ryan Reynolds and co-produced by Scarlett Johansson (We Bought a Zoo) is poignant and riveting, achieving a human empathy for the natural world with nothing more than the simple telling of events in a small British Columbian coastline, called Nootka Sound. 

The story concerns a young killer whale, named Luna, who got lost from his pod and wandered into Nootka Sound and charmed its human residents. Luna bounces things about, follows  boats and seems  to crave attention. Luna waits to ensnare any human eye. He . Then he opens his mouth and the residents rub his belly like a Portuguese Water Dog. As soon as people catch sight of  Luna's jet black fin, like the ungloved hand of Mickey Mouse, they are hooked. They know a playful friend is in the water. And the people who see  Luna come  to expect joy. In Luna's case, the normally fearsome teeth of a killer whale is transformed into Muppet felt or foam rubber. 

But how long will this last? What will be the breaking point before this black masked jester becomes a Dom of a dark ocean, or a misunderstood monster? The  apprehension builds going from blisses of Spielberg, to a shade of Stephen King and back again, but I am not going to spill the thrill of this story.  Suffice to say that the government and the pettiness of a few do their best to worry and wear upon the randomness of natural spontaneity and rein in Luna's interspecies carnival, assuredly at first, for the protection of  Luna, as well as humans.

A highlight of the film, as if Luna is not enough, are the heartfelt and direct interviews of the Mowachat/Muchalth peoples who believe that Luna is the reincarnation of their Leader Jerry Jack who passed away on the same day that Luna arrived. To them, an Orca is a supernatural creature meant to teach life lessons, to show humans the path to the spirit. To the Mowachat/Muchalth the answer is simple: leave Luna alone.

This is one documentary where government agencies actually appear comical, ill-equipped to ponder the breadth of animal intelligence and the hard to refute, physical evidence that Luna is acting out of a definite need for companionship, not cetacean instinct. The humans grow to need Luna as much as he seems to need them. The people look to Luna for a universal connection, a way of going beyond themselves.

Many, including the Mowachat/ Muchalth become deeply moved to tears and even without the safety net of tissues it is easy to see why. One look at Luna's black-masked smile and you recall the playfulness of a Zorro on a Saturday Matinee. But better yet, Luna's arrival speaks of the randomness of nature,forcing us to decide whether to accept unusual visitations with grace or greed. 

Life, be it human or cetacean often has both within. 

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