Aronofsky puts his lead character (this time Brendan Fraser in an extraordinary performance) through the wringer again in this superb chamber piece about a severely obese man hoping to reconnect with his estranged daughter.
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins, Samantha Morton
Plot: A reclusive English teacher suffering from severe obesity attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter for one last chance at redemption.
Awards: Won Interfilm Award & Nom. for Golden Lion & Queer Lion (Venice); Nom. for Best Actor – Drama (Golden Globes)
International Sales: A24
Subject Matter: Moderate – Father & Daughter; Mortality; Obesity
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: In Theatres – Cathay Cineleisure Orchard
Since his debut feature, Pi (1998), American auteur Darren Aronofsky has been putting his characters through the wringer, such as in Requiem for a Dream (2000), The Wrestler (2008), and most recently, Mother! (2017).
The Whale is his latest attempt at a punishing narrative and could be the most compact film of his oeuvre, featuring no more than a few characters in a contained space.
The one person inhabiting a lot of space is Charlie (Brendan Fraser in an extraordinary performance that should steer him towards an Oscar nomination), a severely obese man hoping to reconnect with his estranged daughter.
Well aware of his looming mortality, Charlie is desperate to make amends before time runs out and before the ‘poetry of life’ recedes into the dark abyss. He is a learned man, teaching online courses on creative writing (with his webcam turned off, of course), but he is lying dangerously on the precipice of that eternal darkness.
“People are amazing.”
Aronofsky’s work is, first and foremost, a story about a father and his daughter, where the emotional gravitas of their relationship succeeds as much as its near-mythic portrayal of personal fortitude.
Playwright Samuel D. Hunter adapts his own work for the big screen, with Aronofsky showing his skill in directing a chamber piece—with some visual flair to boot.
With dialogue both scathing and mordant, The Whale may seem like it is perversely chipping away at a hapless, largely immobile man in need of salvation, but the film slowly if surely realigns our gaze—from one of curious revulsion to encompassing compassion.
I also very much enjoyed the provoking interplay between religion and homosexuality, which is a key theme of this superb film.