The Whale | Heavy, Breath-taking Drama | #reviews
(Very mild spoilers below...)
I saw The Whale last Saturday and only now have I felt like writing about the experience.
As the credits rolled, I looked to my trusted movie companion beside me and told her, "I think I need to call my mom."
This made us laugh, but just barely. We couldn't fully understand how we felt in that moment. As the lights came up in the theater, the vibe in the room was "turn off the lights, we're not dressed yet" because everyone felt so vulnerable. The previous 20 minutes of our lives had been taken hostage by the gripping drama that unfolded at the end of this movie.
And what a movie it was.
The Whale is about a man named Charlie (played, of course, by the sweetest man in showbiz, Mr. Brendan Fraser) who is a morbidly obese man living out his final days cooped up in his apartment. Alone.
He is visited by his only friend, and nurse, Liz (Hong Chau). She tries her best to get him to leave, go to a hospital to treat his newest and most deadly affliction but of course he doesn't go. And so she falls back into the comfortable loop of enabling his overeating and trying her best to enjoy the time she has left with him.
Charlie's daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink), begins to come see her father after having been estranged for 8 years. As a way of keeping her around, Charlie takes up a task to help her in school. He's desperate to leave her with a positive image of their relationship.
A boy named Thomas (Ty Simpkins), a sort of Christian missionary, comes into the picture early on and while he mostly acts as a sounding board for the different characters to explore their relationship with the Church, we also find out that he has secrets of his own. Secrets that, once exposed, provide him with the ability to live a fuller life, which is something Charlie observes, but can't make true for himself.
This is a theme that runs throughout the movie. Charlie's desperate need for people in his life to be honest. And it's there because of his own inability to do it himself. As most of us tend to do, he obsesses on aspects of other people's lives that represent the things in his own life he can't seem to change, control, or understand.
This is not an easy movie to watch, and it's not meant to be. Aronofsky wants Charlie's binge-eating to be uncomfortable because every bite he takes, typically in excess, is another nail in his giant coffin. The relationships Charlie has are all broken. People are forced to come to him. They have to come to his 2nd floor, corner apartment to see him and be a presence in his life. Throughout the movie people just show up at his door unannounced, a door that is usually left unlocked because of how much of a struggle it is for him to get up and walk to it. Before the movie started I thought this would be a story that painted an empathetic picture of obesity and contained a message of "we are all equally deserving of love, no matter how large!"
But thank God that's not what it is.
(Author's Note: This obviously isn't me saying obese people do not deserve love, in case I needed to say it. lolz)
This movie has no political agenda. Charlie lost someone, which caused him to binge eat, which caused him to hate himself more and more until he became a recluse, which caused his relationships to fall apart. And all of this leads us to where the audience meets him in the opening moments of the film as he is experiencing congestive heart failure after masturbating on his couch. This is not a saint we are meant to worship. But now, faced with the end, we see this very flawed, very real man desperately fight to have any semblance of a relationship with his daughter.
"I need to know that I have done one thing right with my life!"
It goes without saying at this point that Brendan Fraser is spectacular in this movie. His ability to express deep sadness and regret, but maintain a happy-go-lucky attitude elsewhere in the film is masterful. Only an actor like him can play someone who has effectively been consumed by his own grief, broken down to a massive shell of a person whose life is nothing more than his next meal and show us the best parts of them. Expressing through pounds of prosthetics that he's "sorry" for existing. And while part of you hates that he's giving up you can't help but want to give him a hug. And it helps that his eyes are some of the most gorgeous, puppy dog eyes in the industry. They pull you in and don't let you look away.
The other performances are great, with Hong Chau as Liz being my personal (2nd) favorite. She captures and expertly conveys the feeling someone has of knowing everything they need to know about how to help someone (in this case how to save someone's life), but being too caught up in their love for that person, their own selfish desire to keep them in their life, that they just end up helping that person walk faster towards oblivion.
Sadie Sink is solid as Charlie's daughter, really expanding on some of the things she did so well in Stranger Things. And that's made easier because she's playing another girl whose dad is kind of a piece of shit. But she brings a much needed intensity that balances out the ever-present sweetness emanating from her father.
The final moments of this film culminate in a glorious finale and final few frames that left the entire theater, including me, sobbing in our seats. I haven't had a reveal rock me this hard since the unexpected time jump in Interstellar.
My recommendation is to definitely see this movie. But I have to warn you...you WILL NOT be okay afterwards...