Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Whale

Not many films from 2022 brought me to tears, but director Darren Aronofsky's managed it with the payoff to his emotional tale of an isolated Internet professor (Brendan Fraser) suffering from guilt, loss, and an obesity that has grown to life-threatening levels. With its small cast and singular locale of nearly every scene taking place within Charlie's apartment, designed and organized to fit his needs, we feel his isolation in every moment of Aronofsky's chamber drama.

Despite his pain and removal from the world, Charlie still boasts a warm heart on display with Fraser shining through the fat-suit and imbuing the character with heart and wonder as he has throughout his career. While The Whale is filled with flawed human beings in pain, the film somehow still manages to be uplifting thanks to Fraser's performance and Samuel D. Hunter's layered script.

Hunter's story, adapted from his own stage play, introduces us to the ailing Charlie who abandoned his wife (Samantha Morton) and daughter (Sadie Sink) years before when he began a love affair with one of his former students. Years after his lover's death, in which Charlie's physical state has gone increasingly downhill and his inner circle only includes a friend and nurse (Hong Chau) and a random evangelical missionary (Ty Simpkins) who knocks on his door one day, Charlie attempts to repair his relationship with his estranged daughter.

Fitting perfectly within his career while also being an immediate stand-out for this performance, Brendan Fraser makes The Whale a must-see. Self-aware at how his choices have hurt not only himself but those closest to him, Charlie is broken, but not defeated, by the path his life has taken and determined to try and make the best of the days he has left. The small cast around him also blends pefectly with Fraser, particularly Hong Chau whose friendship with Charlie is explained over the course of the movie and Sink whose raw pain nearly a decade later after being abandoned often leads her into selfish behavior despite his father only seeing the best in her.

While the story is rather straightforward, the messy and complicated lives of the characters works. I could give or take the missionary subplot (although an unexplained aspect of the early scene with the introduction of Simpkins' character ultimately leads to a dramatic payoff). Despite his flaws, and the harm his choices have led to in the past, Charlie continues to try and seek redemption and forgiveness even if he seems unsure if he's earned it. Playing on similar themes as The Wrestler, Aronofsky delivers another strong tale of a wounded but charismatic protagonist and their attempts to repair what has been left broken for years.

Watch the trailer
  • Title: The Whale
  • IMDb: link

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