Dolphin movies never get old. There is probably a scientific or biological reason for this, but at the core, I think it’s because humans and dolphins share an intelligence and desire for community that translates well onto both large and small screens. From Flipper to Dolphin Tale, dolphins are often portrayed as the heroic animal that rescues the isolated and grieving person, effectively swimming next to them on the journey toward healing and restored community. Dolphin Kick is the newest title in the dolphin/child genre, and provides a welcome opportunity to sit down with the children in your life and explore the dynamics of grief, family, conflict, and finding your sea legs.
Siblings Luke and Skylar (Axle McCoy and Tyler Jade Nixon, respectively) are vacationing with the father Clint (Travis McCoy) following the death of their mother. On the island where their parents honeymooned, Luke and Skylar befriend a lonely dolphin who has been separated from his pod. I admit I was underwhelmed at first; after all, here was another story about a lonely boy who needs the help of a surprisingly well-socialized wild animal. But as the film progressed, I began to better appreciate what the story was doing.
Luke, an avid swimmer, has stayed away from the water since his mother’s passing. He quietly tells his new dolphin friend, Echo, that ever since his mother died, he fears he will sink straight to the bottom. I find this to be a beautifully accurate description of grief. What once brought him joy now sends Luke spiraling into fear. When we have loved and lost, both the everyday tasks and the pleasant escapes can weigh on us like anchors, crushing our ability to breathe and resurface. Axle McCoy delivers this line so quietly I almost missed it, but it has resonated with me long after viewing.
Something else I kept second guessing was the dynamic of the characters. How does a newly-single dad with two inquisitive children wind up hanging out with Marine Biologist students on a tropical island in the middle of a lobster turf war? Is this real life? But again, the subtle dialogue chastised me a bit, and…again…I latched onto the words that made it so clear to me.
Student Nova (Alexis Louder, FANTASTIC by the way), is explaining the relationships between dolphins. Since they can’t guarantee they can find Echo’s pod, the group is working to reconnect him with ANY pod, as dolphins can’t survive in isolation away from a community group. Skylar and Luke worry about Echo’s acceptance into a strange pod, but Nova comforts them, explaining that the dynamics of the pod are always changing, and ultimately the new pod will accept Echo simply because of, “a common understanding that a sense of belonging is all they need.”
And how true that resonates! These characters had nothing in common on the surface, yet they were bound together in a common goal. Those who were seeking to destroy outside threats were trying to protect their livelihoods and growing families. Everyone had a common purpose, even if presented in totally different ways…and even species.
We live in a time and place where our differences are emphasized and our relationships are reinforced by our similarities. There are voices that claim we just can’t get along because we are too different, encouraging us to go our separate ways. Sadly we follow suit, assimilating ourselves into groups that keep others at arm’s length.
But film shows us how untrue that is. While yes, we relate to those who have experienced similar lives, all of humanity shares in that “common understanding that a sense of belonging,” is all anyone needs. Our skin color does not change our desire to connect with someone who cares. Our gender does not change our desire to be valued. If people are willing to come together to save a dolphin, can they not…can we not, do the same for our neighbor?
Call me overly hopefully and naïve. Remind me this is only a movie. But all I ask in return is to take a few moments and really think through the moments in your life when you grieved, when you ached, when you felt utterly alone in a strange place…and remember when someone reached out with a life vest and pulled you into safe waters. Then ask yourself how you can do the same for another.