A reclusive, morbidly obese English teacher attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter.
Darren Aronofsky’s latest movie, ‘The Whale’, is about a morbidly obese man coming to terms with his impending death over the course of a week. During that time he interacts with his friend and carer Liz (Hong Chau), tries to reconnect with his daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) and has ongoing philosophical conversations with a young Mormon missionary (Ty Simpkins). Through this, we learn how Charlie (Brendan Fraser) became so large, with his past traumas teased out to explain how he found himself in the position we find him in – confined to a small apartment and reliant on his carer to do pretty much anything.
‘The Whale’ has been billed as Brendan Fraser’s ‘comeback’ movie, with the actor taking on his first major leading movie role in over a decade, and it’s a role that screams awards even before you’ve seen the film. Fraser is excellent and will break your heart with a moving display that finds the right level of nuance to avoid Charlie becoming a caricature, with the performances from Hong Chau and Sadie Sink equally impressive as the main support. I was a bit more conflicted about the movie as a whole though, with it definitely falling into the category of movie where the performances substantially elevate the material. It is based on a stage play and boy does it show, with Aronofsky’s direction making limited effort to make it even remotely cinematic, and some of its treatment of Charlie is bordering on the exploitative.
Aronofsky has made similar character studies before in films such as ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘Black Swan’, which also deal with themes of guilt and regret, emphasised here through Charlie’s difficult relationship with Ellie (Sadie Sink walking a fine line excellently between rage and compassion). I didn’t feel it was as strong as those works with some of the moral messages of ‘The Whale’ bordering on the basic with not so subtle allusions to religion. That being said, this is a well performed movie that touches on some interesting themes, even as I didn’t feel that it quite transcended its stage roots.
Directed By: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins and Samantha Morton