Monday, April 23, 2012

A Lyrical Rebirth — Dolphin Boy, at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival

Healing, love, and hope are the operative words. Nowhere else have I seen such a powerful proof that we can heal, even from the worst conditions, if we are collectively open to the miraculous power of nature, and that we can choose to respond to violence not with anger and revenge but with healing, love and peace.


DEMAND ON VIEWER: HIGH. Subtitles and intense emotional themes.
OVERALL: Highly Recommended

Opens NYC April 27, 2012

Made with an earthy and next-door, relatable feel (even with subtitles) Dolphin Boy is a symbolic and lyrical account of healing and recovery of a boy's humanity through contact with dolphins, and the recovery of himself through the love of his family and friends. 

The boy Morad's unfocused eyes betray his devastating condition. He is the victim of horrible violence, after which he is hospitalized and treated, but with no result. For weeks his family hovers, watching him switch between his vacant, muttering state into attacking his sister and other unmanageable behavior. He has gone into a rare psychological dissassociation, and it seems to be irrecoverable.

His doctor decides, as a last resort, to send him to dolphin therapy. The decision is remarkable in its foresight, all the more so for a western audience not familiar with integrative medicine or alternative therapy.

He spends weeks, which turn into months and then years, with the dolphins, finally coming back to himself in a fascinating and memorable process of interacting with the animals and slowly being coaxed back by the new human family.

I have rarely experienced the incredible range of emotions and themes brought forward by this film:

1. Father-Son. There is first of all a tender Father-Son love story here that will soften the most callous heart.

A parent's worst fear is to lose a child, and much of the drama in this story stems from that nearly universal human emotion.I viewed it with my 8-year-old son (who I am proud to say was willing to try to keep up with reading the subtitles, a testament to him but also to the film's educational potential for schools).
Watching the father kneel to pray near the dolphins for his son, with my own son sitting next to me, was an experience I will not forget. It also made me think of my own father, watching him tenderly cradle his adult son's head in his hands around the fire.

2. Grief. Another aspect of the film is the grief ritual. A group of males beat drums and even sing as a way of dealing with grief of losing a son, friend, member of the village. We do not have such rituals in America (with the exception of churches and funerals). Perhaps this is a clue to some of our societal ills. The grief ritual continues in a sort of dance-like way with the dolphins throughout the story, showing how beautifully aware the body can be even when the mind has been in some sense lost.

3. Rebirth. There is a also a Mother-Son narrative here, in that Morad refuses to acknowledge his mother, because any connection to his native family will bring back memories of the trauma. He views the dolphins as his new family, as though he has gone through a kind of rebirth. When asked whether he would like to go home, he says no. His mother's willingness to allow this process to work itself through is heroic. As a result, Morad is allowed completely to traverse the death-resurrection cycle necessary to become fully himself.

4. Connection to animals. Animals are conscious, sentient, and loving beings in the story, able not only to interact with humans but to choose them, elect them specially. Menken and Nir skillfully weave a parallel about the family horses, for which the daily regimen of care helps Morad's father through the difficult time, and about which the father and sister have a touching remembrance of Morad's ability to communicate with the horses, getting them to whip their tails up and swat the sister. Animal contact runs deep in the family, a gift that ends up saving them!

5. Nonviolent resolution of conflict is finally a political and social message of the film, but without being ideological or didactic. Simply by seeing the story of this family, feeling the injustice and grief at senseless bullying and its catastrophic result, we are brought to see the people as examples in a personalized and local version of something that we can each aspire to: a global effort to end violence through love and harmony with nature. If this sounds saccharine, the film's remarkable practicality and patient attention to detail grounds these values in the dirt—and water—of everyday suffering.

Narrative storytelling through documentary is a difficult and demanding art form. Sometimes it takes years—in this case four—to bring a story to proper conclusion. Menkin and Nir do it in way that seems effortless. Sometimes the captioning seemed a bit second-rate from a typeface-design perspective, but perhaps this was done intentionally, in order not to have an overly glossy production value. 

This film has my vote for best in show at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival, and we look forward to its release in New York and beyond. The world needs to travel a bit with Morad, and learn a new and natural way to heal and be reborn.

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