The Whale: a unique take in film
A movie to bring to light hidden biases
Written by Samuel D. Hunter and directed by Darren Aronofsky, The Whale is a film released in 2022 based on a play of the same name. The film stars specially-selected, renowned actors such as Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins, Samantha Morton, and more. The film focuses on an English teacher’s final days as he struggles with morbid obesity. The teacher is also desperately trying to connect with and restore his relationship with his teenage daughter. The Whale premiered at the 79th Venice International Film Festival where it received a six-minute standing ovation.
The main character, Charlie, teaches college-level English courses online. He prefers to turn his camera off whenever he is teaching. The reality is that Charlie feels ashamed of his own appearance and wants to hide himself as much as he possibly can. The one person in his life that is remarkable is Liz, who happens to be a nurse and the only friend that Charlie has. Liz has asked Charlie to visit the hospital because he is at risk of congestive heart failure. Afraid of the overwhelming amount of debt that he would be left with, Charlie refuses to see a doctor. Through all of this, Charlie wishes he could reconnect with his teenage daughter and work on re-establishing their relationship.
What I find so profound about this film is that the more we watch it, the more we are faced with our own biases and negative preconceived notions that we must actively work through as we watch the film. In each scene, we see Charlie in ourselves. There is the realization that we are more similar than we are different.
Through it all, we start to see the charm of Charlie; how kind he is, how warm he is, how passionate he is, how inviting he is, and most importantly, how authentic he is, even if we are not prepared for his authenticity. Brendan Fraser brings light into the character that he plays. It is difficult to imagine another actor doing what he has done through the role of Charlie. Fraser brings the character to life.
The only way to be able to get through this film is to work through our own internal struggles and judgement. This is the only way that we are able to receive Charlie with kind, open arms.
I also enjoyed the references to Moby Dick. When Charlie is in distress, he finds himself reading passages from a student’s essay about Moby Dick. This gives the title of the film a deep discomfort about the double meaning of The Whale.
Sadie Sink also played her character beautifully. It is impossible to imagine the film without Fraser and Sink. Their ability to cast a new light on common film tropes is unique.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of films that focus on the topic of obesity. In most of these films, characters lose weight or struggle with it through the lens of love and romance. What I love about The Whale is that it strays away from stereotypical depictions of weight and looks at it from a place of humanity and empathy. Regardless of how you feel about the film, this is what makes it different from the rest of Hollywood: the film invites viewers to grapple with their own biases and focus on the humanity of Charlie.