Film Review: Dolphin Boy

As if we needed any more reason to love dolphins, this doc suggests they could save us from the shrink.

Are there any animals on earth more compellingly adorable than dolphins? Penguins, panda bears, capuchin monkeys and meerkats might all come close, but for sheer photo friendliness and personality, nothing beats these sleek aquatic miracles. Dolphins’ strong connection to human behavior is, of course, apparent to anyone who has ever taken one of those rather cheesy dolphin rides while on vacation, but what is less known is this animal’s capacity for psychological therapy.

This is the terrain covered over a four-year period in Dani Menkin and Yonatan Nir’s Dolphin Boy. It focuses on Morad, an angelically handsome Arab boy who suffers from post-traumatic stress. He was brutally assaulted by classmates in his village in northern Israel during a contretemps involving a girl, rendering him almost catatonic and suffering from insomnia and nightmares. Rather than seek bloody revenge against his assailants, which would most likely result in an endless vendetta, his distraught but supportive father takes him to Dolphin Reef, a haven where man and beast swim together freely in a natural space.

The understanding staff takes Morad under their wing and, after sessions of dolphin therapy that include swimming, petting and feeding, the boy comes alive again, able to confront not only his past but his victimizers. Nothing is without its price, however, and the aftermath of violence remains instilled in Morad in ways that will haunt the viewer.

Although the filmmakers get a little repetitive with talking-head interviews of the Dolphin Reef staff and such like, Dolphin Boy is a compassionate study that admirably refrains from pumping up the sentimentality. Morad and his dignified dream of a loving father, who finds release by practicing his own therapy of singing and dancing, sneak into your heart in an honest, unpretentious way. The dolphins are, of course, the real stars here and, as much as you may already like them, this film will open your eyes to their additional, formidable, hitherto unknown capacities and cause you to look upon them with new favor during your next zoo visit.