I can understand the appeal of “Big Miracle,” the cheesy looking new movie about a whale trapped in Arctic ice. I was once a preteen kid obsessed with marine life and I definitely would have gone to see it. Now I’m a thirtysomething kid obsessed with documentary so I have other films to see. If you’re with me on wanting a more grown-up alternative, I’ve got another Doc Option for you:
“The Whale” is a new documentary from celebrity producers Scarlett Johansson and her ex-husband Ryan Reynolds, who also narrates. I reviewed the film here at Spout back in September, and it’s surprisingly still in theaters in spite of the disappointing amount of attention it has received and the disappointing gross it has accumulated. I shouldn’t be that amazed that it’s not more popular since neither “Project Nim” nor “The Cove” were blockbuster level documentaries either and each deals, differently, in similar subject matter to “The Whale.” People want to see cute animals in uplifting stories, not complicated contemplations of man’s treatment of other species.
And “The Whale” is especially difficult for people who like whales. The preteen me might have had trouble with the notion that whales, especially orcas (killer whales), are not to be looked at as a friend, pet or entertainer. As I wrote previously, there’s an irony to the fact that this film could easily be adapted into a narrative feature along the lines of “Big Miracle” (it seems one film “Luna: Spirit of the Whale” is based on the same story), yet its whole point is to de-dramatize, de-cutify and de-anthropomorphize wild and captive animals. It tells us the hard truth that even animals who seem to want and enjoy human interaction should not receive our affection and attention.
The film is thematically very different than “Big Miracle,” which presents the true story of a rescue effort to physically save three trapped gray whales from pack ice. In “The Whale,” the attempt to get Luna, a killer whale, out of Vancouver’s Nootka Sound, concerns physical dangers but there’s so much more. Luna is trapped more by her isolation and misunderstanding than by any material obstruction. She just won’t leave the sound and nobody knows the best way to get her to leave or the best reason why such an effort is necessary. If you go in thinking you know the best solution, you’ll probably come out with another idea or with utter uncertainty.
“The Whale” is one of the most underrated docs of the past year and deserves to be seen. It is currently playing in Daytona Beach and continues to expand to other cities. Check its screenings listing page for engagements presently booked through April (you should also follow my weekly Docs In Theaters column at the Doc Channel Blog for updates) or contact them to request it be shown near you. And hopefully it will be released to DVD sometime soon. Check out the trailer below: