THE WHALE. Brendan Fraser is magnificent

The Whale is Darren Aronofsky’s highly successful directorial comeback after five years.

Dawid Myśliwiec

13 November 2022

Brendan Fraser certainly hasn’t had it easy in recent years. He fell out of the mainstream acting circuit, to which he was seemingly doomed after the success of The Mummy series of films. For a long time Fraser struggled with depression after the loss of his mother, and the subsequent years of negligible screen presence made him almost completely forgotten. Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale has a chance to change that – in the film adaptation of the play by Samuel D. Hunter, Brendan Fraser gives a real acting performance.

Charlie is a prisoner in his own home – weighing nearly 600 lb, he is no longer able to go outside, and his only contact with fresh air is when he opens the door to pick up a pizza left by a delivery man on the porch. Charlie is a university lecturer and teaches a course in creative writing – in front of his students he pretends that he can’t turn on his vision due to a broken camera on his laptop, but in fact he’s just hiding from the outside world. When we meet the main character of The Whale, his health is in a deplorable state – nurse and friend Liz (Hong Chau) tries to force Charlie to go to the hospital, but due to lack of insurance the man refuses. Instead, aware of the impending end, Charlie decides to contact his teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink), offering the rebellious girl money to spend a little time with him. Also caught up in all this is the good-natured Thomas (Ty Simpkins), a representative of a religious sect, who, like a comedian, visits Charlie’s house only to be embroiled in a complicated story of an extremely obese man.

Even without being aware that The Whale is a screen adaptation of a stage play, one gets the impression that Aronofsky’s work is not a film, but a performance. The enclosed space, the limited number of characters, the often repeated entrances and exits of individual characters – all this makes The Whale much closer to theater than to cinema, also due to the emotional depth of the story. Over the course of the two-hour screening, almost every relationship Charlie has – with Liz, Ellie, her mother Mary (Samantha Morton) – is subjected to a thorough examination, and his impending death prompts the protagonist to work through even the most difficult emotions in his relationships with the women of his life. The lost Thomas, who for some reason keeps coming back to Charlie’s apartment and eventually helps him understand the truth about his daughter, also has a role to play in this losing self-therapy. The Whale takes the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster ride, and while there is a moment of respite in places, one’s head is still spinning long after the screening from this ride.

Darren Aronofsky’s film is an acting masterpiece. Already after the viral footage from Venice, in which Fraser, crying in raspy tears, received a standing ovation, it was clear that the lead actor’s performance would be superb – and it is. But it’s not only the former Mummy star, climbing to the absolute heights of his skills, who deserves recognition here – I would already give an Oscar nomination to Hong Chau, who is absolutely phenomenal: she’s direct and firm, but also able to amuse and move. This is undoubtedly one of the most charismatic supporting performances I’ve seen this year. Sadie Sink’s performance pales in comparison. The actress is already very close to “that rebellious redhead” label – Ellie is a tweaked version of Max, played by Sink in the Stranger Things series, and she also played a similarly snarky teenager in the Netflix trilogy The Fear Street. I liked the performance of Ty Simpkins much more. In extremely believable way, he portrays the confusion of Thomas, a good boy who simply strays a bit.

The Whale is Darren Aronofsky’s highly successful directorial comeback after five years, when he suffered a second consecutive dismal failure with mother! Charlie’s story again reveals one of the most common themes in his work – the compulsive behavior of the main character. This is a constantly recurring motif in Aronofsky’s filmography – the protagonists of Pi, The Fountain, The Wrestler or Black Swan were stuck in the clutches of obsession, although the reasons for it were different each time. Charlie’s compulsive binge eating stems from an emotional trauma he experienced years ago, but still hasn’t worked through. The Whale is an opportunity for our hero to finally do so, and dealing with the pain he has hidden for years will prove to be the key to Charlie’s liberation. Who knows, maybe Brendan Fraser will also be liberated in his own way thanks to Aronofsky’s film?

Dawid Myśliwiec

Dawid Myśliwiec

Always in "watching", "about to watch" or "just watched" mode. Once I've put my daughter to bed, I sit down in front of the screen and disappear - sometimes losing myself in some American black crime story, and sometimes just absorbing the latest Netflix movie. For the past 12 years, I have been blogging with varying intensity at MyśliwiecOglą

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