Review: The Whale

The Whale poster

Intense, claustrophobic, and very moving. Maybe not for everyone, though.

Charlie teaches online courses to improve people’s essay and academic writing skills, yet he is housebound do to years of an eating disorder causing him to gain near-fatal amounts of weight. While others around him help or hinder his emotions, is this Charlie’s last week?

Actor Brendan Fraser has been very low-key over the last few years; you’d be forgiven to think only: “Hey, it is the guy from The Mummy!” and that was fifteen years ago. But he has been busy; more notably in DC comics adaptation Doom Patrol. But him reappearing in a sure-fire Academy-nominated drama (directed by Darren Aronofsky no less) is definitely a surprise.

The Whale is a film adaptation of a stage play by Samuel D. Hunter (who also wrote the movie) and has been making quite a splash (no pun intended) on cinema, mostly for the transformative work Fraser went through for the part. A massive prosthetic gave Fraser a real sense of weight and mass, which he has gone on to say that whenever he removed it, he could still feel it. It must only have increased the conviction in his performance, which is superb.

But what should be mentioned, with The Whale‘s prominence over media right now, is that it is still an Aronofsky film. Aronofsky does not do easy-to-watch films. Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream, mother!, all of these are incredibly intense movies, and this one is not far different. While it might have brief moments of levity and light-heartedness, answering to Charlie’s innate positivity despite his condition, these moments are often used to juxtapose with something terrible.

Brendan Fraser in The Whale

The film is shot almost entirely within Charlie’s ragged apartment, with characters coming and going to interact with him (much like a stage play) and, interestingly, the film is shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio. These make for a very claustrophobic experience. Without the widescreen aspect ratio, Charlie’s size feels even more cumbersome; crashing around the small confines of the screen. This and Aronofsky’s intense filming of characters’ expressions. Goodness. Raw emotions are never quite so well captured.

The rest of the cast are exceptional as well, from Hong Chau as Liz, perhaps Charlie’s one ally in this phase of his life, Sadie Sink (Max from Stranger Things) and Ty Simpkins (that annoying kid from Iron Man 3) give incredible performances. The film bounces around a lot of discussion and argument between all of these characters, especially around the topics of religion, honesty, and family.

Especially honesty; the film’s entire premise is about being true to yourself, and being honest to others, as well as knowing when to be tough. It is an emotional movie, for sure. It builds and builds, and before you know it, you are completely invested and crying over it all. From Charlie’s kind nature but awful dependency, to Liz’s dogged loyalty but fierce frustration, or Sadie Sink as a outrageously sarcastic, acidic teenager.

Whether or not it is an enjoyable movie… Not really. But then, Aronofsky doesn’t do enjoyable movies. It is a well-crafted experience that is tight and contained. Very much stage-to-screen.

Maybe don’t have a lot of food while watching, though…

4.5 out of 5 stars

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