Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Blackfish, Toothless's Intelligence, and Could You Really Trust a Night Fury?

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I rented and then purchased the documentary Blackfish. It deals with killer whales and the dangers of keeping them in captivity. The documentary is remarkably well done, and the critics all rate it as such. It was compelling and harrowing as it tells the story of an orca, Tilikum, who unlike any orca in the wild has taken the lives of three people. The documentary goes in depth on how intelligent these animals are, and I must confess that I was in absolute awe. I never dreamed that any creature could be that smart, could remind me of the dragons and Toothless in particular. The similarities were uncanny. They may look nothing alike, but when I was watching the orcas and seeing how they thought, my brain was just screaming Night Fury.

Toothless could totally exist. If a whale can be that smart, so could he. These orcas were doing things that were mind-blowing. Wild orcas, when a research scientist threw a snowball, broke off a large chunk of ice, fashioned it into a sphere, and began tossing it around in the water! They learn to imitate human mannerisms in the parks, and I saw tons of footage of them nodding when their trainers would nod and even sticking their tongues out when they wanted to be laughed at. Really charming. Then when it comes to hunting they are terrifyingly strategic, but what struck me most was how they would bond with a particular trainer and work together with them. Again, does this sound like dragons (especially Toothless) to anyone except me?

But after all that came the terrifying truth about what the orcas have done in captivity. There have been several deaths, and Tilikum has killed three people, two of whom were his trainers. The last attack was terrible, absolutely sickening how brutal he became, but he had bonded with that trainer. There are so many images of him and her together enjoying one another's company, her hugging him, and all sorts of stuff. So... what went wrong? The documentary feels that Tilikum has become psychotic, and I would agree to that. So, most times, he is fine, but if he has a bad moment or a growing frustration, he could vent it on someone, and that action could be fatal. They are so smart, they have so many layers of emotion and intelligence (reminds me of RoB4 with Gobber's description of dragons) that they can be completely unpredictable. You don't know what is going on in his head, and so it is incredibly dangerous to be around him even though he may have even bonded with you. Really sad and rather horrifying. 

So... where does that leave Toothless? I like to think of HTTYD as being very realistic, being a world that is so layered that you feel like you could walk into it. Watching stuff about orcas has made me really think that an animal like Toothless could exist and even that a friendship like what Hiccup and Toothless have could be possible. But then you have the dark side, the sudden unpredictable and vicious attacks, and if HTTYD is realistic, could Hiccup really trust Toothless? Would I trust Toothless? How comfortable could you be with a 2,500 lb carnivorous reptile sleeping in the same room as you? Toothless's instincts are that of a predator, and you have to realize that the dragons of HTTYD did eat people, and Toothless has clearly displayed that he has the ability and the willingness to kill (he nearly chomped and crushed Astrid and was about to incinerate Stoick without a moment's hesitation). So....what if he snaps, or worse, what if he's plotting? You cannot speak like the animal, their brains do not work the same way (Oh I had the most amazing conversation once with Toothlesslove on Tumblr concerning how Toothless would think and how it would probably be very different than the way people think. Things like an emotional drive rather than abstract though, things like instinct mixed with a form of logic that was not quite human. Really fascinating.), so in the end a Night Fury could act in a way that you think is friendly while truly being on the verge of an aggressive attack. Can Hiccup realistically trust Toothless? You cannot trust an orca that has shown love and bonded with you for ten years, so what about a Night Fury?

The answer is, YES, if I were Hiccup I would trust Toothless, and I don't say that without having first thought through it! Now, when Hiccup first met Toothless, was trusting the dragon a safe idea? No. It was really incredibly risky, but he took the risk. Honestly, I still wouldn't have felt comfortable around Toothless until the very end of the film when he dives into the flames to catch Hiccup. At that point it seems pretty clear that the dragon will give anything for the boy... or will he? What separates him from the orcas who seem to be incredibly loyal? Perhaps Toothless is just saving his recent source of food and his ability to fly. Without Hiccup, the dragon could easily believe that his survival would be jeopardized. How is he any different than the killer whales who work and train possibly for the simple reason that food and survival require them to do that?

Gift of the Night Fury! That is where Toothless shows that he is different! The orcas are held in captivity in an enclosure that is about 1% of their original habitat. They need their trainers in order to live, so they work and train and show love, and it really could all be because they want their next meal. They are crammed into an alien environment, and it is just a fatality waiting to happen as they become annoyed and stressed. Toothless cannot fly without Hiccup, and so you could make a very similar argument for him. He needs the boy, and perhaps that is why he shows love. If there ever comes a time where he is so angry, unhappy, and stressed that he snaps, Hiccup would be in great danger, right? Wrong. GotNF proved that wrong, and it showed that Toothless IS different. He was offered freedom, and for a while he took it, but he returned. Unlike the orca who must stay with their trainers and who are in captivity, Toothless was given the opportunity to leave Hiccup forever, to be free again. He turned that down, turned it down flat in one of the most beautiful scenes in HTTYD. That is why I'd trust him, and that is why Hiccup can as well. Toothless is not some steed, he's not some play thing, and he's certainly not captured. He was given freedom, but he turned around and handed it back because he does love Hiccup, and he loves him selflessly. He doesn't need him, he wants him. That is why Toothless is different, that is what sets him apart, and that is why Hiccup could, in all realism, trust him with his life.

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