‘The Whale’ pulls on some heartstrings


Brandon Fraser makes a comeback to the Hollywood big screen and delivers a powerful performance in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale.” The film follows an obese English professor as he attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter. 

After watching Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler,” I went into this film with the understanding that it was going to be a difficult watch, not just for me but for all viewers. Fraser plays a character named Charlie who lives alone in an apartment in Idaho. He is grieving the loss of his lover which is a result of letting himself go and gaining weight. His only friends are a nurse and a young evangelist who comes to his door out of the blue one day.  

Charlie teaches online English courses but keeps his camera off so his students don’t see that he weighs 600 pounds. Fraser appeared to be the weight of his character with the help of prosthetics and CGI. As an audience member, you feel sympathy for Fraser’s character. Beneath the exterior is a loving, kind man; yet he feels worthless and ready to give up on life.  

This film is an adaptation of a play by Samuel D. Hunter. In an interview with “The New Yorker,” Hunter talks about how he went through a rapid weight gain in his twenties but ended up losing it over the next 10 years with support from therapy, family and his partner. He started writing “The Whale” in 2009, basing Charlie on his real-life experience.  

After seeing  the off-Broadway play, Aronofsky became interested in adapting it. In the aforementioned interview, Aronofsky says he was attracted to the play’s “rich, human characters.” Fraser was in conversation to play the role but it wasn’t confirmed until he went to the East Village in 2020 to do a reading of the script.  

“There was no question as to who could best tell this story. He’s able to navigate the sadness through hope,” Hunter told “The New Yorker.”  

This is the first film in a long time to focus on an overweight character in a genre apart from comedy. You look at films like “The Nutty Professor,” “Shallow Hal” or “Hairspray,” which are all comedies. You don’t often see the dark side of obesity, its emotional effect. Throughout the film, the audience sees hints of Charlie’s lightheartedness; he cracks a smile every now and then when his friend Liz, played by Hong Chau, visits to check up on him and make sure he is not dead. Once he is left alone and with his thoughts, the audience sees the mental fatigue Charlie puts himself through before he closes his eyes at night; he mourns the loss of his lover and battles with everything he thinks he has done wrong in his life.  

“The Whale” is done by the production company A24 and many of their films are anxiety driven and leave the audience not knowing what will happen next. Although we know Charlie’s internal clock is ticking, it can be painful to watch Charlie start to binge eat; viewers almost want to be a part of his life to tell him to stop, but at this point, Charlie has no value for life.  

Fraser brought so much raw emotion to the role and it is going to be a difficult decision between him and Austin Butler for the Oscars’ Best Actor category. Sadie Sink who plays Charlie’s estranged daughter, Ellie, proves to have a bright future ahead of her as she goes head-to-head with Fraser showing her firepower in this role.  

There is not a second to be missed in this film as the audience is drawn to these emotionally complex characters from start to finish.  

Rating: 4.5/5 

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