Brendan Fraser’s comeback film will move you to tears
Darren Aronofsky, known for his disturbing and melodramatic psychological films (Requiem For A Dream, Noah and Mother!), follows through with The Whale. Its source material is a stage play of the same name by Samuel D. Hunter, who came on board and adapted his own work for the camera. It shows, starring only five main characters: Brendan Fraser as Charlie, Hong Chau as Liz, Sadie Sink as Ellie, Ty Simpkins as Thomas and Mary as Samantha Morton, and most of the story happening within the confines of Charlie’s two-bedroom apartment somewhere in Idaho. It's a difficult two-hour watch.
The first time we meet Charlie, we see a 600-pound man masturbating to porn on his couch. It cuts short when something in his chest tightens, and he scrambles to call for help. Chaos ensues; a phone gets chucked in the flurry and the pain is clearly unbearable. The only thing that anchors him is an English essay about Moby-Dick, read aloud by a missionary who just happened to be there. Fast forward to when his nurse friend, Liz, arrives and gets him in order, and we discover he suffers from congestive heart failure. With his blood pressure shooting up to the 240/130 range, he most likely has a week left to live. Nonetheless, Charlie refuses to go to the hospital and soldiers on.
Throughout the film, it is clear that Charlie is trying to right one of the multitudes of wrongs in his last week of living. His size was the result of the overwhelming grief that caused it. Charlie refuses to help himself and instead reaches out to reconnect with his estranged daughter. He even offers her money and promises to write her essays if she will just stay over a few hours. He entertains Thomas, the missionary who sees him as a soul to save, for some help for menial, physical tasks. All the while, Liz teeters between berating him for his condition and enabling his tendencies.
The entirety of these supporting characters share a common road to redemption; in some way, they think they will attain it by trying to save Charlie. But that’s the thing, you can’t save someone who doesn’t want saving. The characters learn this the hard way as they go back and forth between grief and self-destruction, giving aid to another and declining the same help they need.
While the world basked in the Brenaissance (or Brendanissance) and applauded the actor for his incredibly moving performance in The Whale, the Darren Aronofsky flick still received ire for its depiction of morbid fatness. A lot of critics found a lot to hate in the film: the fatsuit, their behaviors and the focus on Charlie’s discomfort. These are valid. It’s almost grotesque and voyeuristic, the way the camera gets angled to show the physically tedious processes Charlie goes through to do simple tasks; the way his shirts are always marked with sweat. An ominous soundtrack underscores every binge-eating session as grease glazes his mouth.
View this post on Instagram
In Requiem For A Dream (2000), Aronofsky focused on the effects of drugs, and The Whale also tries to depict the reality of addiction. This time, it’s to food. He attempts to illustrate the objective truth of Charlie’s dependence on it. At times, it comes across as exploitative and unnecessary. But everything negative about the film is outweighed by Brendan Fraser’s moving and empathetic performance as Charlie, as well as the rest of the ensemble’s fantastic talent. So Aronofsky’s attempt may not have hit home for many, but Fraser’s humanity encourages us to look at the situation without judgment. Beyond a figure often demeaned and dehumanized is a soul who wants to be seen as an equal. Someone who just wants to right one last mistake as his clock slowly runs out.
TL;DR: The Whale is a painful watch. It’s an uncomfortable two hours that will leave you bawling when the credits roll. And we all have Brendan Fraser to thank for that.
Catch “The Whale” in cinemas nationwide starting February 22.
Special thanks TBA Studios
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver