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Dolphin Boy tells the intriguing story of Morad, a teenage boy who was left in an almost vegetative state after being abducted and beaten. Two weeks before being committed to a mental institution Morad’s doctor recommends a radical treatment: Dolphin Therapy. Morad’s father sells everything and takes his son to the coast, remaining by his side during his miraculous three year recovery.

Dolphin Boy wrenches the emotions, both negative and positive. Depression, anger, relief, and joy are just a few of the responses to Morad’s tragic life and inspiring recuperation. The tale of his beating, over a harmless, misinterpreted text message breeds anger and sorrow. Morad’s father, who refuses to stoop to violence to avenge his son is inspiring and his dedication to his son’s rehabilitation is touching. Only a fully healed Morad can testify against his attackers so justice can be done. The road to recovery is long and uncertain for the boy locked within his own mind to escape his trauma. Morad’s gentle nature makes his assault even more tragic. The emptiness in his gaze is haunting making his interactions with the dolphins even more poignant. There is a great swell of relief as Morad becomes increasingly more himself.

The film is so intimate, and Morad and his father are so endearing, that they win you over quickly. After that point you are totally committed to the emotionally satisfying ride.   His emotional growth and mental healing are nothing short of amazing. The film examines the meaning of love, family questioning personality and who we truly are. What is at the essence of our being and how strong or fragile is that fundamental quality?

This documentary hits all the right cords. It is not as delightful as one might expect from a story about healing dolphins, but the humanity it displays is so genuine that anything less would fail to do it justice. The underwater cinematography compliments Morad’s private world below the waves, visually accentuating his undersea sanctuary. Though the film is set in the middle east it makes no attempt at religious commentary and there are no political overtones at all. This comes as a great relief because it allows the story to focus solely on the life of a family and their last hope to repair the damage done to their lives. The emotional power of Dolphin Boy is actually heightened by being less about the dolphins and more about the boy.

Dolphin Boy is playing as part of Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival on Thursday, May 5 at 9:00 pm at the Bloor Cinema and Saturday, May 7 at 9:45 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox.