Currently playing in UK cinemas (following its US release in December) is the psychological drama, The Whale. The movie – directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by Samuel D. Hunter – is based on Hunter’s play of the same name and stars Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins, and Samantha Morton.
In the movie, Fraser plays the role of Charlie – a dangerously obese English professor, who lives by himself and teaches online writing courses. His only visitors are a pizza delivery guy, who he never sees face-to-face, and his friend and carer, Liz, who stops by on a daily basis to check up on him.
Liz is desperately worried about Charlie’s health and has been for some time. However, in recent days her concerns have begun to intensify, as she is aware he could die from congestive heart failure very soon.
Thing is, Charlie knows that his time is limited, but decides not to spend his remaining days seeking medical help as he would much rather focus on correcting a past mistake. He wishes to become reacquainted with his estranged daughter, who he hasn’t seen for years, in the hopes they can rebuild their relationship before it is too late.
Now, I’m pretty certain that before you even clicked on this review you have heard of The Whale. I say this with some confidence because a.) lead star Brendan Fraser has received plenty of headline-grabbing critical acclaim for his performance as Charlie, and b.) Fraser is currently in the running for a Best Actor Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards.
We won’t find out if he will receive that award until March 12th, but it is fair to say he stands a very strong chance of winning. And I say this, because he is truly excellent as Charlie in The Whale.
I’m not telling you something that you haven’t already heard; I am merely adding my voice to the deafening praise surrounding him. Fraser gives a mesmerising, heart-breaking performance, which is absolutely phenomenal, and I whole heartedly agree with all the people championing his corner right now.
Fraser is the heart, soul, and emotional core of this movie, and what he brings to the screen can’t be undersold. The Whale is built around his performance, and he gives everything he’s got to deliver arguably the most moving role of his career.
But Fraser isn’t alone, and he’s ably assisted by a strong supporting cast, who pop up now and again to provide vital interaction. Chief amongst these is Sadie Sink, who is very effective as Charlie’s bratty (and angry) daughter, while Hong Chau is excellent as best friend, Liz.
As for the rest of the movie, I found The Whale to be an incredibly moving, deeply impactful film. It got inside my head for a good couple of hours whilst it played out on the big screen, then remained with me long after.
Now, I’m aware that some have criticised The Whale, believing it pokes fun at overweight people, or perpetuates certain stereotypes about obesity, but I respectfully disagree; this is not how I see the film at all. I view The Whale as an important look at depression and how someone can simply lose interest in existing, resulting in obesity and a severe decline in health.
Without getting too deeply into things, I’ve had a rough couple of years, and at times I’ve been less than enthused about life myself. During the pandemic I started to put on a little weight (like we all did), and a large part of this was due to disinterest in the world around me.
I wouldn’t necessarily say it was self-destructive behaviour, and I certainly didn’t become obese, but I was aware that I wasn’t taking care of myself like I should. Things weren’t looking so rosy in the world (specifically in my world), and I wasn’t too bothered about putting any effort in either.
I can’t say I’m in a much different place emotionally right now, but physically I am making attempts to rectify things. However, I am aware how easy it is to give in, and to say “to Hell with it all”, and this is something which I see on screen with Charlie.
His story is about a battle with himself, which he no longer has a vested interest in winning. He has been fighting this battle for a long time, he’s tired, and he’s accepted he will lose it.
This isn’t to say that everyone who is overweight feels this way, but it is to say that this is how Charlie feels. He eats the way he does, and ignores the health implications because he wants to die – and he’s using food as his way to achieve his goal.
People become overweight for various, often complex reasons, but for Charlie, it is a way to end the emptiness and pain he feels. This film isn’t about poking fun at Charlie or overweight people, nor is it about playing to stereotypes, it is about demonstrating how situations like this one can happen.
This really hit home for me. Not because I currently feel this way, but because I can see how easy it is to walk this path.
Stepping away from the above subject matter for a moment, as I don’t want to get caught up in some of the negative criticism, I want to highlight other aspects of the film which I believe work very well, including the make-up and prosthetics used in The Whale. Brendan Fraser did put on some weight for this role, but his physical appearance has been enhanced through effects wizardry and it certainly aids his performance.
The movie also benefits from strong lighting, music, and set design, with Charlie’s home – the only setting used in the film – feeling all very tangible and lived-in. This film has been carefully pieced together, with a great deal of effort put into every little detail and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
From the moment the movie begins, through to its final shot, this is a picture which really delivers. It hits all of its marks, and then some, resulting in something special.
It’s fair to say that I see The Whale as a superb movie. Sure, it is a film which benefits immensely from Fraser’s performance, but it is a picture which tells a very compelling story.
The Whale has the ability to get under the skin and remain there for some time, and I honestly don’t understand why it has not been nominated in the Best Picture category at the Oscars (especially considering some of the movies which have received nominations). As far as I’m concerned, this is an oversight, and quite a glaring one, but hey, that’s the Academy Awards for you.
But anyway, whether this film deserves more recognition, or whether Fraser wins big, The Whale is excellent. This is hard-hitting, powerful stuff, and while it’s not easy viewing, as with the recently released Till (which is also excellent and yet also isn’t nominated for Best Picture) it is a must-watch.
Go see it!
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