Content warning: This article contains frequent references to suicide and eating disorders.
Despite its overwhelming praise and it being almost two months after its original release date, there is absolutely no platform to stream “The Whale” (2022). Trust me, I’ve looked for it. If you search for it, you’ll only find sketchy websites with pop-up ads and hyperlinks that’ll send you to “how to be a billionaire in a week” videos. But I really wanted to see what all the talk was about — the six-minute standing ovation at Venice International Film Festival, the many nominations and awards, as well as the social media trend: “Brendan Fraser Renaissance” — so I caved in and bought the viciously overpriced ticket to watch it at the closest AMC.
“The Whale” is an A24 film about the last days of Charlie (Brendan Fraser), an online college professor who is obese. Almost 17 years before the time setting of the film, Charlie married Mary (Samantha Morton) and they had a daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink). However, Charlie was gay, and when Ellie was 8 years old, he left his family to be with Alan, one of his students and a member of a Catholic religious group. When Alan gets kicked out of the group and disowned by his family due to his sexuality, he falls into depression that results in him taking his own life. Charlie then puts upon himself not being able to save Alan and abandoning his family, especially since Mary won’t ever let him see or talk to Ellie. Charlie falls into a vicious cycle of guilt and depression, and develops an eating disorder to cope with his suffering.
“The Whale” is a portrait of pain. The viewer is shown the many facets of affliction that the overwhelming pressure of guilt and regret create. Throughout the film, Charlie’s health affects every part of his daily life, from walking to going to the bathroom. The film portrays what it’s like to live with an eating disorder, and the imbalance that it brings. Charlie’s struggles reflect the truth of living with an illness: There is no straight line to recovery. He continually relapses into overeating throughout the film, not magically getting better. We see him cry, joke, smile and against all odds, stay positive and try to make a good impact on his students and his estranged daughter.
Part of the great success of this film comes from the impeccable writing of Samuel D. Hunter. The structure of the plot is clean and coherent, allowing strong characters with meaningful backgrounds to develop. The dialogue is simple but impactful, which makes the scenes build up tension towards resolutions and advancements of the plot. The screenplay uses literary devices, like several callbacks and metaphors to add layers to the story. Hunter manages to excel in written techniques that are often difficult, like using flashbacks and including contemporary technological elements like online learning in an artistic style.
It is also imperative to mention the great work of director Darren Aronofsky and the film’s design team. From its color scheme to the use of symmetrical shots, the visual aspects of this film can not only be considered beautiful, but also work as a whole towards the tone and impression of the movie as a piece of art. The team also did an extraordinary job of turning a single-set picture into a dynamic and shifting scenery that never bores. Finally, it would be ridiculous to not note the brilliance of the prosthetic team, which worked arduously with the latest technology to create a depiction of an obese man that stays true to reality. While the use of prosthesis has been culturally questioned (why cast a skinny actor in the first place?), the design talent cannot be debated.
Nonetheless, what brings the movie together is the supreme acting of Brendan Fraser. Unless you’re a “The Mummy” (1999) fan, you probably have not heard that name for a long time. However, he has broken back onto the scene after several years of diminished celebrity status by taking complete advantage of the role he landed with this film. Fraser demonstrated his acting range with an extreme portrayal of feelings, especially through his facial movements. The dialogue came naturally to him, and with his delivery the true beauty of Hunter’s writing grew. Fraser’s representation of this illness and vicious suffering is exceptionally believable, immersing the viewer completely into the story. His acting makes the audience care. At times, he would be carrying hundreds of pounds of prosthetics, so his ability to deliver that performance speaks to his capacity as an actor and an artist. Brendan Fraser has shown his timeless talent, and makes us all hope to keep seeing him on the big screen.
Needless to say, the overpriced movie ticket was certainly worth it.