The O’Barry Identity

The Cove, directed by Louis Psihoyos, is a documentary about the annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. By combining what could be two different movies – the history of dolphin meat in Japan and how it exists today versus the director’s activist group planning a daring mission to reveal what happens in modern day Taiji – and making the film just as dramatic as it is educational, Psihoyos shows a black and white world with clear cut good guys and bad guys. But for a film intended to disgust the audience and convince them to take part in ending dolphin killings, it works remarkably well.

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1. Ric O’Barry recalls how his dolphin committed suicide in his arms.

One of the most memorable segments of the film is a sequence where Ric O’Barry recounts his experience in the dolphin training industry. He begins by talking about how famous the show he worked on, called Flipper, became and how it created the demand for dolphins at aquariums and birthed a new industry. However, his tale becomes more and more depressing as he talks about how many dolphins are caught and kept in captivity. Eventually O’Barry reveals that the conditions of captivity are what led the dolphin he trained on Flipper to stop breathing and commit suicide in his arms. The film cuts from footage of the dolphin smiling to a crying O’Barry as he tells the story. In the shot, shown above, the two things the audience sees most prominent are his tearful face and the painting behind him of a dolphin. This scene shows exactly what The Cove does so well: manipulate the audience to the side of the activists by including events, as opposed to excluding facts to paint an imperfect picture. The story of Kathy’s death is heartbreaking, and contributes to O’Barry and Psihoyos’ argument that dolphins are intelligent and establishes dolphins as separate from farm animals like chicken and cattle.

An important thing to note is how using Ric O’Barry’s story is similar to using the numerous victims and families of victims of Minamata disease in Tsuchimoto’s Minamta: The Victims and Their World. However, in Minamata the filmmakers chose to portray numerous victims of Minamata disease and their families. This created an image of similarity amongst the affected and how widespread and destructive the disease had become in the community. Psihoyos chose to focus on one man who was personally involved in the events of the film, personalizing the struggle of the filmmakers.

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2. The film crew is tailed while driving through Taiji.

Another element that brings pathos to the forefront in allying the audience with the filmmakers is the thriller-like aspects of their time in Taiji. As soon as they start driving through the town, they are tailed by cars simply because Ric O’Barry is in the car with them. The director is even told that one of those following him and the crew is the local Chief of Police. By showing the town as a faceless antagonist similar to films like The Wicker Man or even They Live, where anybody in the town could be out to get the protagonist, it makes Taiji seem like an evil place that only exists in films or other stories. The nervousness of being in the camera lens, in the car while everyone stares, puts the audience in the filmmakers’ uncomfortable shoes and establishes that the audience and the filmmakers are enemies to the town of Taiji.

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3. Ric O’Barry stands ground against the IWC during their meeting.

The climax of the film features Ric O’Barry crashing a meeting of the International Whaling Commission with a screen showing the footage of dolphin slaughter that the filmmakers took in the titular cove in Taiji, Japan. This scene is especially effective and memorable because as opposed the faceless entity of Taiji, there is a clear enemy in the IWC. The film shows several times the face of the Japan’s representative in the IWC and oftentimes cuts to him against stories of the ignorance and passivity of the IWC in preventing the killing and consumption of dolphin. This is The Cove’s version of the good guy facing the big bad in the climax of the film, with the protagonist ending the duel in triumph. Now, obviously this is more low-key than say, a fist fight on a rooftop, but it’s still made dramatic by the filmmakers through the composition of the scene. The camera follows O’Barry and we see him, the guy who saw his beloved dolphin commit suicide in his arms, standing there simply showing everyone what they have allowed to happen.

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