Fathom

Movie review by
Sabrina McFarland, Common Sense Media
Fathom Movie Poster Image
Scientists decode humpback whale sounds in see-worthy docu.
  • NR
  • 2021
  • 87 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Kids can see a diverse team of scientists and their colleagues at work and may be inspired to pursue a career in the field of STEM.

Positive Messages

STEM workforces should be a place of diversity, inclusion, belonging. Mentors serve an important, powerful purpose. Documentary shows a supportive network of family and friends. Candid and caring discussions about work-life balance. Female scientists work to understand methods of communication differences between sea animals and people.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Marine ecologist Dr. Michelle Fournet is assisted by Dr. Leanna Matthews and student research assistant Maggie Knight with fieldwork in Alaska. The group acknowledge that they're a good team and take care of each other. Their activities include confirming a checklist of items needed for the journey, taking notes of observations made during the mission, engaging in a conversation about functional fashions while on assignment, and sharing lots of laughter. Dr. Ellen Garland, a senior research fellow, says that her mother wanted to be an oceanographer, but women weren't allowed to be on boats at that time. She became a geographer instead but still embraced a love for the sea now shared by her daughter. Dr. Garland also mentors graduate students, and during time spent with husband Matt Lilley, the couple create a cushion for their cats' scratching post.

Violence & Scariness

Mention about possible capsizing of a boat by whales and that the crew could die from the cold water. A reference to dead dinosaurs.

Sexy Stuff

Dr. Garland and husband Matt Lilley embrace, and she kisses his head.

Language

Dr. Garland mentions some fieldwork days can be the "crappiest." 

Consumerism

Images that include clothing with designs, logos, and messages. Boat gear displaying brand names. Desktop and laptop computers, GPS equipment, headphones, smartphones, food items with brand labels.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Dr. Fournet sips from a can of Alaskan Kölsch, which is an ale containing a mixture of malts and glacier-fed water.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Fathom is a documentary about two scientists who set out on separate journeys to study the sounds and songs shared by humpback whales. There are mentions about the possible capsizing of a boat by whales and the crew dying from the cold water. The word "crappiest" is used, and there's a reference to dead dinosaurs. Images include a can of ale and a couple engaged in an embrace/kiss. The documentary includes positive female representation and lots of great messages about teamworkcourage, curiosity, and perseverance.

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What's the story?

FATHOM is a documentary about the global travels at sea by Dr. Michelle Fournet and Dr. Ellen Garland, who study humpback whale communication. In the film, Dr. Garland, a senior research fellow, tracks songs sung by humpback whales in French Polynesia. Marine ecologist Dr. Fournet analyzes the sounds of humpback whales in Alaska. The scientists also express passion for their professional and personal achievements, which include mentoring aspiring scientists, engaging in laughter with colleagues, and candid conversations about having a work-life balance.

Is it any good?

In this educational and entertaining documentary, female scientists study the mysterious sounds made by humpback whales. For Fathom's Dr. Garland, the mission is not only about a concern for the greater good of the earth, but also a personal passion. "It gets me out of bed every morning," she admits. "I'm a nerdy scientist trying to understand our planet, trying to understand all the animals on our planet before they disappear." And, notes Dr. Fournet about her assignments, "We're creating a record so that we can at least demonstrate to the world and to the generations ahead of us that something beautiful was here." These shared stories and images from accomplished scientists and their colleagues help Fathom to serve fittingly as a film that can inspire kids to consider careers in STEM.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the teamwork of Dr. Michelle Fournet and Dr. Ellen Garland in Fathom. How do they also demonstrate courage, curiosity, and perseverance? Why are these important character strengths?

  • Why is it important for the teams to decode the dialogue and sounds shared by humpback whales? What could be the benefits to ocean life and people?

  • In what ways can STEM industries encourage diversity and inclusion? How can kids become inspired to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics?

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