During the 1960s and 70s, whales and dolphins changed form in the popular imagination from a monstrous, but profitable source of fats and oils to the benevolent poster children of the environmental movement. This talk focuses on The Day of the Dolphin (1973), a film that emerged during the height of the “Save the Whales” campaign. Reading this film alongside the controversial scientific work performed by the cetologist John C. Lilly demonstrates the human desire, whether exploiting or defending cetaceans, to contain and control whales and dolphins by enclosing them in the holds of a ships, aquaria, or cinematic frames. The Day of the Dolphin is a crystallization of the North American fascination with whales and dolphins and is heavily influenced by the complex and interconnected web of cetacean science, modern whaling, and environmentalism. As such, by reading this film as a visualization of the rhetoric of cetacean compassion it is possible to expose a consistent human propensity to enclose cetaceans within pools, frames, and rhetorics which then lead us to proclaim them open and free.
Matthew Thompson is a PhD candidate studying at the Cinema Studies Institute of the University of Toronto. His dissertation explores the representational strategies shared by space exploration, environmentalism, and science fiction during the 1960s and 70s. He has an article on insects and cinematic technology in the journal Spectator and an interview with Raffaele Mirelli in the journal World Picture.
Northrop Frye Centre Doctoral Fellow Lecture Series