The Day of the Dolphin (1973)

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The Day of the Dolphin (1973)

Post  BoG on Sun Oct 26, 2014 8:50 pm

This stars George C. Scott as a researcher who is training dolphins at a secret facility on an island somewhere. There are two dolphins in the story, named Alpha and Beta - a male and a female. They are shown to be quite intelligent as far as animal species go, but very childlike in their naivety. In the final act, sinister forces attempt to use the dolphins in a political assassination plot and one of Scott's staff turns out to be a traitor. Also stars Trish van Devere (Scott's wife) and Paul Sorvino as some kind of journalist. I remember when I first watched this many years ago, when I was much younger, the melodic music and the climax saddened me deeply. BoG's Score: 7 out of 10

John Muir wrote:Review:
Many science fiction films of the 1970s deal with humanity’s changing relationship with animals, those fellow creatures with whom he shares the Earth. I wrote that the relationship is “changing,” and that process of change involves the boundaries of man’s science and knowledge. As he better understands himself and the world, his understanding of animals also changes. The Planet of the Apes films of the 1970s directly involve mankind’s uneasy relationship with a close mammal cousin, and the fight for dominion. Mike Nichol’s The Day of the Dolphin concerns another highly intelligent inhabitant of the Earth, the dolphin , and asks the question: is dolphin-kind better off learning from us at our current stage of development, or should it remain far, far away from 20th century human beings?

The Day of the Dolphin centers on a character played by George C. Scott named Dr. Jake Terrell. As the film opens, we see him lecturing about dolphin intelligence and communication to a rapt audience, and later, we seem him playing God, of a sort, at his marine research institute. There, he is the father figure for Alpha, the first dolphin raised in captivity. He makes the decisions for Alpha, teaching him linguistics and semantics, and demanding obedience. When Alpha won’t obey, Terrell separates him from his mate/ companion, the dolphin Beta, and the film features a heart-breaking scene of Alpha banging at a door plate, attempting to reach her. Finally, realizing that humans hold all the cards, Alpha obeys Terrell’s edicts. He submits.
As the film continues, however, the audience detects a change in Terrell. When he encounters those who would more cruelly exploit Alpha and Beta -- for purposes of political assassination, no less -- he sees the error of his ways. “We should become like them… instinct and energy,” he muses at one point, wondering explicitly why he has sought to re-cast the dolphins in terms of human standards and learning. Furthermore, he realizes what a disservice he has done them. “They trust us more than their own instincts,” he realizes. “They’ve never been lied to…The Day of the Dolphin climaxes with Terrell making the ultimate parental sacrifice. He is cruel, on purpose, to the dolphins, and thus knowingly drives them away…. never to see them again. He knows they will be used badly by mankind, and can’t let it happen. But they do not understand why he rejects them now. They have no basis for understanding, and are without guile. The last several minutes of the film will make audiences weep as the dolphins call after Jake in despair, and it takes every ounce of courage and resolve for him to reject and ignore their entreaties. In this case, as Jake realizes, the dolphins are better off without human interference, better off hating humans, even.

Even outside the commentary on humans and how they treat animals, the film works as a metaphor for parenting, for children and adults. At some point, the children must walk (or swim) alone , and indulgence or assistance will do no further good. The Day of the Dolphin dramatizes its emotional tale with a minimum of obvious fakery, and the scenes of affection between Scott and the dolphins feel incredibly real, and therefore touching. The scenes of Terrell and Alpha together, learning from one another, showing each other affection, represent the best angels of human nature: mankind’s capacity to reach out to other beings in peace and love. In keeping with the Watergate context of the era, however, the film also offers a yang to that yin. The movie very deliberately charts a conspiracy, and notes that it is no longer possible to “trust the good old establishment.”

Muir, John Kenneth (2013-10-25). Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of the 1970s (pp. 146-147). The Lulu Show LLC. Kindle Edition.
Trivia of the Dolphin:
the task that the dolphins are given in the final act is nothing new on film; it duplicates a scene in Around the World Under the Sea (1966)
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