A Beaten Teenager Seeks Solace in Another Species
In defiance of its rather twee title, the documentary “Dolphin Boy” is admirably opposed to mystical pronouncements about the man-beast connection it so carefully records. More grounded in simple observation than in fanciful theories, this effortlessly engaging story of sudden tragedy and halting recovery wisely focuses on the facts and leaves the wonder to the audience.
The boy is Morad, a young Arab from a village in northern Israel who, in 2006 at age 17, sent an innocent text message to a girl in his class and was savagely beaten by her brother and his friends. The attack left him mute, unresponsive and suffering from what his psychiatrist, Dr. Ilan Kutz, described as a severe case of post-traumatic dissociation. When two months of conventional treatment yielded little improvement, Dr. Kutz decided to try an outlier therapy: swimming with dolphins at the Dolphin Reef in Eilat, on the shores of the Red Sea.
Filming over four years, the directors, Dani Menkin and Yonatan Nir (who is also an underwater photographer at the reef), capture every milestone in Morad’s uneasy quest to reclaim his personality and recall his past. Rejecting human interaction, Morad comes alive underwater among the gentle animals, which offer company and ask for nothing, and much of his journey unfolds necessarily from the perspectives of others.
And while some of its more interesting byways are frustratingly glossed over (we need the publicity notes to learn, for example, that a Jewish girlfriend Morad meets at the reef is forced to lie to her family about his ethnicity), interviews with those closest to Morad reveal a young man plagued by post-injury nightmares and sudden rages.
“They took his soul,” his devoted father tearfully says early in the film. And though the extraordinary connection between man and animal gives “Dolphin Boy” its hook, it is the ineluctable bond between a boy and his father that provides its heart.