Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Premise: A severely obese man (Brendan Fraser) suffering congestive heart failure is visited by a missionary (Ty Simpkins) while trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Sadie Sink).
What Works: Darren Aronofsky’s films are frequently about characters who are consumed by obsessions or compulsions. The Whale is consistent with that theme and it is the closest Aronofsky has come to recreating the discomfort of Requiem for a Dream. The story focuses on Charlie, an exceptionally obese man who lives a shut-in life. It’s revealed that Charlie had previously been married to a woman and had a daughter with her but left his family when he fell in love with a man who has since died and his death led Charlie to withdraw and overeat. In that context, Charlie’s obesity is a product of grief and despair and this idea runs through the film. Charlie is played by Brendan Fraser and this is probably the best performance of his career. Charlie’s mental state oscillates between hope and despair and Fraser projects that struggle throughout the film. Frasier is encased in a body suit and the prosthetic work is convincing and looks organic. Also impressive are Sadie Sink as Charlie’s daughter and Hong Chau as his nurse. Sink plays a moody teenager while Chau is a caretaker and both characters are harsh but gradually reveal motives for being that way. The Whale also uses space effectively. Nearly the whole film takes place inside of a single floor house and the filmmakers use the setting well, maintaining a sense of enclosed space while consistently finding unique angles.
What Doesn’t: Darren Aronofsky isn’t known for subtly and The Whale is severe and frequently shrill. With the exception of Charlie, virtually every character is harsh, yelling at Charlie and projecting hostility. That’s part of the point. The Whale is about coping with the meanness of the world but the film manages that idea clumsily. Facing his mortality, Charlie looks for some good in his life, namely his daughter, but she is cruel and disinterested in him. The movie runs so severely hot and cold that its attempts to suggest redemption or humanity come across hollow. The themes of The Whale are very obvious. The filmmakers don’t trust the audience to figure anything out. That’s especially evident in the music score which, while good in and of itself, is often intrusive and micromanages our emotions in a way that is so noticeable that it is counterproductive.
Bottom Line: The Whale has a great performance by Brendan Fraser and some impressive contributions by the supporting cast. The movie’s emotional manipulations are too forceful and obvious. The Whale is deliberately unpleasant in the way of a lot of Darren Aronofsky’s films but without the insight or payoff found in his other work.
Episode: #934 (January 8, 2023)