Big Miracle — A Whale Rescue Movie With a Deeper Message

by Phil Kline

January 30, 2012

This is a poor pun, but I can’t resist — I had a whale of time last Wednesday night at the DC premiere of Big Miracle, the new Drew Barrymore movie that features a family of grey whales as her co-stars. This whale of a tale (sorry, I can’t help it) is based on a true story that took place about 20 years ago. Greenpeace activist Cindy Lowry, played by Ms. Barrymore, worked to free an unfortunate whale family that didn’t leave its Arctic summer feeding grounds before the ocean began to freeze over. The whales became trapped five miles from open ocean — a fate that would have meant certain death in the face of the approaching Arctic winter.

The movie is the inspired telling of how Cindy gets a lot of usually at-odds folks to cooperate: The US government, the Soviet Union, Big Oil, the townspeople of Barrow, Alaska, and the indigenous Inupiat community all set differences aside and quite literally save the whales. And while I may be giving away the ending, the real story is just how tough it is to get so many groups of people to find those precious points of understanding that allow them to come together for something greater. It gave me hope that we can certainly do it again.

Ms. Barrymore does a commendable job stepping in to Cindy’s role. My favorite scene is when she uses a bit of clever PR to corner both the US military and a big oil exec, a classic David vs. Goliath moment. That spirit of brains over brawn resonates through the film, which refreshingly reveals Greenpeace as an organization that understands the art of intelligent persuasion. I was half expecting the stereotypical “reckless activist” portrayal, but the film balanced our determination with our compassion; of course we love whales, but we also understand people.

That’s not to say there weren’t a few appropriately firey moments within the frozen landscape. An early scene features Cindy getting kicked out of an oil-lease auction after she demands that the Greenpeace bid be read. That kind of treatment still takes place today as our activists fight climate change, and look for opportunities to speak out wherever they can.

And while this is a heart-warming movie, I hope everyone who sees it leaves the theater with an awareness of some chilly reality. Most of the issues this film introduces are still very much at the top of our agenda today.

Greenpeace tirelessly fights against any and all drilling, and though we don’t object to native communities in the far north taking of a few whales for their survival, we continue to work toward ending all commercial whaling. You can join us by taking action now and asking President Obama to Save the Whales.

This film did a praiseworthy job demonstrating the positive power we, as humans, can generate when we work toward a greater good. It also made it clear that protecting those majestic animals is really a reflection of our commitment to our environment, to our planet, and — ultimately — to ourselves.

Phil Kline

By Phil Kline

Phil is a senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace USA. He is a recognized expert on oceans policy domestically and internationally, and has represented Greenpeace U.S. at International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings and Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meetings around the globe.

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