Nature documentaries have been one of the most enduring and popular subgenres for good reason. The sights and sounds of the natural world are perfectly suited to the visual storytelling of the cinema. That inherent appeal is certainly evident in the beautifully enigmatic documentary Patrick and the Whale, directed by Mark Fletcher.
As the title suggests, Patrick and the Whale follows a marine videographer and nature enthusiastic named Patrick Dykstra, who becomes enamored with the unusually social whales in the waters surrounding the Caribbean island of Dominica. Having traveled the world and dedicated his life to understanding whales, his encounter with one these whales – who he names Dolores – sparks his greatest fascination. As he forges a connection with her, he also remembers a tragic incident where a pod of whales washed up on shore in England. Both inspired by his apparent friendship with Delores and shaken by the collective demise of those whales and others, he decides to embark on a daring investigation into their behavior and socialization.
Patrick’s subsequent mission plunges viewers deep into the depths of the ocean and in doing so, generates some of the most gorgeous underwater cinematography. Floating amid the blue glow, there’s an awe-inspiring majesty to the colossal whales themselves, making it easy to understand why he compares them to otherworldly beings. And when we learn of their echolocation abilities, their social life and their overall intelligence (they possess the largest brains of any animal), you’re likely to fall in love with them too.
Patrick’s love for one whale in particular forms the beating heart of the film and fuels its educational aspirations. Through his efforts to evolve the existing science surrounding whale behavior via innovative camera techniques, the film is thus very insightful. And coupled with the tender scenes depicting his interactions with Dolores it makes for captivating viewing overall. In the vein of the similarly affectionate My Octopus Teacher, it presents a heartwarming counterpart to humanity’s more destructive tendencies.
But like that Oscar-winning documentary, Patrick and the Whale also suffers from its overly anthropomorphized interpretations of a human-animal connection. As he attempts to explain the thought process behind her later responses to him, the film starts to veer from science and into more frivolous territory. Though it’s deep dive into the world of sperm whales garners intriguing access, the film ultimately confirms that it may be more useful to appreciate these enigmatic creatures from afar. Or at the very least, resist forming unhealthy pseudo-relationships with them.
[…] TIFF Film Review: ‘Patrick and the Whale’ Marvels at Nature’s Enigmatic Beauty […]