FILM REVIEW: The Whale
Boasting an ever-growing list of award nominations and a comeback performance that everyone is rooting for, Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale is seemingly the film to watch out for this year. Based on the stage play that presumably very few had heard of prior to this adaptation, The Whale is about a morbidly obese English teacher named Charlie who is on death’s door. But before he departs, he wants to make amends and reconnect with his estranged daughter.
An uncomfortable watch by design, The Whale creates a claustrophobic feel, not just through the enormity of its main character, but through its 4:3 aspect ratio, suitable for a film taking place entirely in a dingy, little apartment as Charlie’s world closes in on him. This makes scenes of him gorging himself, his evident health issues, and the daily tasks that come so difficult to him, that much harder to watch.
Brendan Fraser returns from his hiatus and carries the film as much as he can. As hard as it could be to empathise with an overeating glutton like Charlie, Fraser’s natural likeability shines through the lifelike prosthetics that make him look 600 lbs. As a teacher, a father, a man, Fraser’s charm is palpable, and (assumedly) pulling from the pain of his real life in recent years allows him to deliver a touching performance.
As good as all the technical elements are - it is well-directed, well-acted, and the make-up and set design is impressive - the problem with this movie stems from the story, perhaps the stage play itself. The Whale spends the entirety of its runtime having its main character in a rut and its secondary characters chastising him for this, doing little else to progress the relationships. Sadie Sink plays Peter’s estranged daughter and portrays her attitude well, but after nearly two hours of her calling her dad out for everything wrong in his life you grow numb to feeling sorry for Charlie. Perhaps this is a truer portrayal of life for people in these situations, especially the element of providing care for someone who cannot care for themselves which is sure to connect with certain audiences, but The Whale would have been a sweeter and more impactful film if the father-daughter relationship had shown some semblance of growth.
Despite an empathetic performance from Fraser, The Whale is little more than a film that revels in making its main character feel bad for himself, which becomes tiresome as a viewer. It is easy to pity someone who cannot look after themselves, but the lack of progression leaves the audience feeling more numb than enlightened.