Written by: Adam Vaughn | November 24th, 2020
The Walrus and the Whistleblower (Nathalie Bibeau, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.
A major topic of our time is that of animal abuse and neglect that various marine-life-based attractions engage in. Major attractions such as SeaWorld have been under scrutiny for their treatment of animals in captivity, and regardless of the stance people take on the matter, the events and accusations brought to light spark specific, emotional responses, particularly tragedy and frustration. The Walrus and the Whistleblower, told from the perspective of Marineland’s former employee Phil Demers, wields these tragic emotions to create a narrative of how cruel and unnerving Marineland’streatment of the animals can be. While I sympathize with the tone of the piece, and the film depicts a moving and gut-wrenching portrayal to the fullest extent, I would have appreciated a film that delved deeper into the narrative and came full circle to tell the story from all perspectives and opinions, rather than force one specific point of view.
As a documentary film, The Walrus and the Whistleblower balances a present-day interview with Demers with found footage of Marineland’s presentations and training, government court hearings, and protests. We trace Demers’ beginnings at the park, the relationships that her formed, and his discovery of animal abuse. The film takes a thorough journey through Demers’ fight against big government and the spinning wheel of the corporation’s ability to fight the system, all the while conveying the heartbreaking effect on the animals. At the start of the film, Demers forms an emotional tie with “Smoochie,” the walrus who imprints on Demers and is Demers’ main motivation for fighting Marineland. This relationship is brought up throughout the film to remind the audience of what is at stake through the relentless process of change.
What The Walrus and the Whistleblower is missing is the feeling of well-rounded storytelling that captures the various viewpoints. Throughout the documentary, we as the viewer never hear from any of Marineland’s owners, or from any representatives of science or government that present any other perspectives on the subject. While this helps in keeping the film’s tone and message solid and grounded, it also limits the narrative from showing the full story, and eliminates any possibility of a difference in opinion. While the film states that Marineland refused to participate in the documentary, I can’t help but feel as if there could have been other attempts to at least portray the opposition in some way.
Despite the one-sided narrative, The Walrus and the Whistleblower grips the viewer in a race against the clock, as we wonder whether Phil Demers will successfully win out against the corruption of marine-attraction owners as the death toll of animals in the park increases. The pacing and drive of the film keeps viewers invested, sympathetic, and raises an emotionally charged awareness of the cruelty taking place, while simultaneously creating immense mystery as to who could ever allow such a horrendous park to remain open. The Walrus and the Whistleblower could hopefully bring things out into the open, shedding an ever-brighter light on the tragic circumstances so that they never happen again.