The Whale

The Whale

Amazon Film
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From director Darren Aronofsky comes the Oscar winning, The Whale, a story about a reclusive English teacher who attempts to reconnect with his teenage daughter for a chance at redemption.

Movie making is a swirl of factors that come together in endlessly changing ways. The right (or wrong) director, actor, or producer can influence not only the end output, but also the public perception of it.

For The Whale casting beloved actor Brendan Fraser in one of his first leading movie roles for 16 years was a jackpot decision on all counts.

Based on a play by Samuel D. Hunter (who also wrote the screenplay) and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem For A Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan), The Whale depicts a morbidly obese reclusive English lecturer who teaches online courses with his webcam off.

What Is The Whale About?

Charlie (Fraser) refuses expensive medical care for his declining health, and spends his remaining days with worried friend Liz (Hong Chau) as he tries to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter (Stranger Things star, Sadie Sink).

Aside from the notoriety surrounding the film due to an outstanding performance from Fraser, The Whale also garnered attention (not all of it positive) for its depiction of weight issues.

Fraser is adorned in a huge ‘fatsuit’ and heavy prosthetics to realise Charlie’s huge frame. His daily struggles are laid bare – he can hardly walk and needs a strong cord attached to the roof in order to get out of bed – as are his negative eating habits.

No doubt you will form your own opinion on this element, but The Whale succeeds by strength of being a single location character piece.

Charlie’s homosexuality, depression, and hopes are examined through a sympathetic portrayal by Fraser who delivers boundless emotion throughout his wonderful performance. Yet as the movie throws other characters at him we also see his flaws.

Chau plays a vital part as friend Liz. Her care and concern for Charlie forces him out of his self-justification bubble even as he dismisses her.

Chau’s ragged look and harassed compassion portrays a woman for whom this has also become her life: she runs errands and brings Charlie his groceries. Combined with a young persistent missionary from a controversial church (Ty Simpkins), Charlie fends off competing efforts to ‘save’ him.

Yet his delusion is also right there on screen, should you wish to judge him for it. His insistence that daughter Ellie (Sink) is ‘perfect’ despite him having to promise her money and homework to make her visit speaks to a man whose selfishness gives him a blinkered view.

His protestations that it was Ellie’s mother who refused him all contact glosses over that his affair with a young male student was the cause (whose death drove him into binge eating depression).

Sink has a difficult job because Ellie as written is a vile character. Despite her bitterness being attributed to a broken home (“She’s evil,” mumbles her mother) Ellie’s viciousness is so vitriolic and unrelenting that Sink struggles to give her that essential glimmer of vulnerability until it is almost too late.

Ellie’s mother, Mary, is the vital context required to see Charlie in a different light. Charlie has the luxury of idolising his daughter.

Left (as women so frequently are) to do the actual work of raising her, Mary (a powerful, prideful, and damaged Samantha Morton who delivers so much in so little time) has a different perspective.

The Whale Official Trailer

Is The Whale Worth Watching?

Arguably the central subtext of The Whale is ‘honesty’. Who is being honest? Charlie is clearly the architect of his own situation.

Fraser brings him to life as a gentle and softly spoken man moved by the beauty of language. Yet his past actions and current deceits are questionable. “I fell in love,” is the only justification he can offer. Who else can say that all decisions made in the name of love are rational ones?

It is likely that you will bring your own prejudices, conscious or unconscious, to The Whale. Like all the best art, it is open to multiple interpretations.

Whatever your end view, the rightfully praised performances of Fraser and Chau breathe humanity into a rich character study.

The Whale makes frequent reference to Charlie’s favourite essay on Moby Dick, so to close with the words of Herman Melville: “to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast.”

Words by Mike Record

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  • A Rich Character Study
  • Fraser Is Outstanding
  • Open To Interpretation


  • Ellie's Character Is Too Unrelenting
  • Arguably 'Fatphobic'


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