by Darren Aronofsky The whale is based on a play by Samuel D. Hunter, who also wrote the screenplay, centering on the outstanding performance of Brendan Fraser. And while the director is comfortable with the film’s apocalyptic themes and Fraser demonstrates that his return is well-deserved, the family drama feels forced, neglecting to anchor its characters convincingly within the walls of the apartment. Where it happens.
Charlie (Fraser) gives online writing lessons from his home, which he no longer leaves, camera off. He is obese and it is unknown if this is a cause or an effect of his hermit lifestyle. He has a near-death experience watching porn with his blood pressure rising, but is saved by a young missionary who knocks on his door at the right or wrong time. Charlie wants nothing to do with God if need be, but instead frantically asks the confused young man to read an essay on Moby-Dick out loud.
It’s not particularly obvious what Moby-Dick has to do with Charlie’s life beyond just being tall and the whales being tall (get it?). If there is an equivalent in classical literature, it is A Christmas Carolas during The whale, we learn that Charlie isn’t a great guy and even his attempts to make amends upset others in the process. But for Charlie and his revolving visitors, redemption is never out of the question.
Charlie’s friend, a charming and brusque nurse named Liz played by Hong Chau, shows up panicked and after checking his vital signs, lets him know that his days are numbered if he doesn’t go to the hospital. Charlie, who has no health insurance, refuses, and Liz is both gutted and exasperated. As the only truly invested person in her life, she serves as a surrogate to the audience.
After their first meeting, the missionary becomes something of a regular guest in the house, continuing to urge Charlie to save his soul. He is at odds with Liz, who doesn’t trust his sunny attitude or his church and tries to push him away, hoping that her friend can be saved in this life.
Charlie, meanwhile, is busy trying to mend his relationship with his daughter Ellie, played by stranger things‘ Sadie Sink, to whom he reaches out, knowing it’s his last chance. The gruff teenager is a great writer but a poor student, and Charlie hopes tutoring and bribes will make up for her missed childhood. Later, Ellie’s mother (Samantha Morton) tries to make sense of their brief marriage.
There was some controversy over the decision to cast Fraser and put the actor in a big suit. Aronofsky’s reasoning was that he tried to cast a bigger actor, but couldn’t find a good enough one, which isn’t good enough. Although Fraser’s performance is excellent, the film itself has nothing profound to say about obesity and that, combined with the casting choice, suggests a lack of curiosity. There are many ways to tell a story about an inmate with health issues, but that’s the choice they made, and the film doesn’t provide information to justify an increasingly frowned upon practice of put actors in grease suits. Charlie’s relationship with his body seems so simplified. When his body is directly addressed, it’s treated as something he does to people, which could have been interesting to explore, but this movie doesn’t. While a director can’t exactly control viewer reactions, it’s telling that during my screening, the audience was left for cheap laughs like Charlie opening a drawer full of candy.
The film has garnered praise, which will hopefully encourage studios to believe that a film that centers on the experience of an obese person from their perspective is worth making. It’s a good thing that prosthetics allow actors to transform, but it’s murky when it’s the only way for people whose bodies don’t fit the Hollywood mold to be portrayed on screen. . It’s certainly nothing new for these stories to be told by more traditional movie stars before they were ever allowed to be in the hands of people with lived experience. The film has no obligation to make amends for the sins of Hollywood’s past, but it’s certainly negligent if empathy was the goal.
The whale it looks like it was adapted from a play. Charlie only comes out on his porch to pick up the deliveries and the apartment, people walk in and out assuming they understand each other’s motives when they clearly don’t. It’s to Aronofsky’s credit that he didn’t expand the scope of the production beyond just the location in an effort to make it more cinematic, and he takes advantage of the medium to capture Fraser’s facial expressions. , which do more to tell Charlie’s story than dialogue.
The film’s controversies shouldn’t overshadow that it’s just bad storytelling. As the ragtag crew come and go, they each reveal their great psychic wound in a dramatic monologue, boiling things down to one version of people hurt each time. The exhibition errs on the side of heaviness, and here it’s evident that the work’s adaptation to the screen hasn’t been polished enough, where there’s more room to be subtle when showing that we don’t say it. For Aronofsky, it’s groundwork, but if it was to make a sober film, the divisive director fell short.
Fraser’s performance has already set the actor up for accolades, and he deserves that recognition, just like Chau. But The whale is a frustrating watch as Aronofsky doesn’t seem to trust the actors or the audience, crushing the potential to tell an intriguing story.