Making Angels Weep: “End of the Line,” directed by Rupert Murray

In Rupert Murray’s devastating documentary about the fate of the world’s oceans, a pair of observations made by two fisherman encapsulate the problem outlined by the film. In the first, Adama Mbergaul, a member of an ethnic group called the Lebou who have been fishing the waters around Senegal for generations, is lamenting the situation in which he finds himself. The local catch is so diminished that by the time he pays for his gas, he will have made two dollars on his day’s work. It is not enough money to feed his wife and young daughter, and he is contemplating moving to Europe where he thinks his prospects will be better. “There used to be fish in abundance,” Mbergaul says. “And our grandfathers encouraged us to follow in their footsteps, but the sea betrayed us.” He says this while only a few miles out on the water, European super-trawlers wastefully harvest tons of fish. The betrayal he feels is visibly elsewhere.

In the second telling moment, Haidar El Ali, a Senegalese diver, is furious about the foreign boats fishing in his waters. His directs his anger at those same super-trawlers that catch everything in their massive nets, including turtles, sharks, whales, dolphins and sea birds, and then toss most of it back. “Man is not going to change,” he says as he floats in the ocean, a kind of Merman Cassandra, “and the sea is going to be dead because man is crazy.” Haidar, who has been diving for 35 years, has got it right. He looks out to the industrial trawlers beyond his small boat and his sightline tells us that the treachery in this film doesn’t belong to the sea. Betrayal is us.

We get a sense of this early in the film, when Ted Danson, who narrates the film (based on a book of the same name by Charles Clover), intones about “the most efficient predator our oceans have ever known.” We see the passing shadow of a shark on the ocean floor, then more sharks are visible above, and suddenly they seem to be everywhere. The music, written especially for the film, is vaguely reminiscent of Jaws. Next we see blood in the water and a frenzy of flashing teeth and fins. That we’re witnessing a shark attack is clear enough; what becomes evident once we’re able to connect enough of the pictures is that the attack is on the shark and not by it.

The efficient predator, of course, is man, and what follows this sequence, and throughout the film, are images of our criminal pillaging of the oceans …

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Volume 28, Number 3: Paint

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #111, published August 2009.

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