The Whale Review: Darren Aronofsky’s Worst Threads, Stuck in a Fat Suit

This review of Whale was originally published after its premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. It has been updated and reposted for the film’s theatrical release.

of A24 Whale Put all of Darren Aronofsky’s worst inclinations into a fat suit. It’s Aronofsky’s torture refusal exercise Request for a dreambut it focuses on an even more vulnerable target prayAddicts. It’s also filled with fun biblical pranks by Mommy!, Noahand fountainbut focuses on the figure of Christ whose masochistic superpower is to absorb the cruelty of everyone around him and store it safely inside his massive body.

To be fair, some people like this kind of misery. But these viewers are also warned that this drama is not only difficult to last and potentially harmful for some audiences, but it is also a reinforcement of the status quo for itself — one of the boring ones. The most that a movie can do.

For a film that, in the most generous reading possible, encourages viewers to consider that there may be a heartbreaking story behind bodies they consider “disgusting” (from the film), Whale does not seem to care much about the point of view of the main character, Charlie (Brendan Fraser). Charlie is a divorced middle-aged man living in a small apartment somewhere in Idaho, where he teaches online English composition classes. Charlie never turns on his camera during lectures, because he’s fat – very fat, about 600 pounds. Charlie has trouble moving without a walker, and he has adaptive devices like canes that are stored around the house.

If an alien lands on Earth and wonders if humanity finds its largest members attractive or repulsive, Whale will clearly communicate the answer. Aronofsky plays the foley sound whenever Charlie is eating, to emphasize the steamy sound of lips slapping together. He plays ominous music in these sequences, so we know what Charlie is up to really bad. Fraser’s neck and upper lip were always covered in sweat, and his T-shirt was dirty and covered with debris. At one point, he stripped off his shirt and slowly made his way to his bed, rolls of loose fake fat dangling from his body as he lurched toward the camera like a rough animal. In case the viewer still doesn’t understand that they must find him disgusting, he will read an essay on Moby-Dick and how a whale is “a poor big animal” with no emotions.

And that’s just what Aronofsky conveys about him through the film’s director. story in WhaleThe first half of the film is a show of humiliation, which begins when a Protestant missionary named Thomas (Ty Simpkins) walks in to see Charlie while he’s having a heart attack, gay porn is still playing. on his laptop after a disastrous masturbation attempt. Charlie’s nurse and only friend, Liz (Hong Chau), is mostly nice to him, though she still feeds him meatballs and buckets of fried chicken. So does Thomas, though he’s less interested in Charlie as a human than as a soul in need of salvation. But Charlie’s 17-year-old daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) openly despises him and says the worst things she can think of to punish Charlie for abandoning her and her mother, Mary (Samantha). Morton), when Ellie was eight years old.

Aronofsky and writer Samuel D. Hunter (adapting his own stage play) don’t reveal the condescending point of all of this until the second half of the film: Charlie is a saint, an image of God. Christ, a fat man who loves the world so much that he lets everyone in his life treat him like a dog purely to free them from their hatred and him from sin. mine. Meanwhile, a side episode involving Thomas’s past life in Iowa makes the strange assertion that people are actually trying to help when they treat others unkindly, which could only be true. if the target of that hostility doesn’t know what’s good for them. So what is it? Should a person turn a blind eye, or be cruel to be kind? Depends on whether they’re fat or not, it seems. Charlie never comments on the other characters’ smoking and drinking, but they certainly do comment on his weight.

Probably the most annoying thing about Whale is how close it is to some kind of insight. Aronofsky and Hunter simply need to show empathy and curiosity about people of Charlie’s size, rather than guessing at their motives. The main culprit here is a plot point where Charlie refuses to go to the hospital, even though his blood pressure is dangerously high and he is showing symptoms of congestive heart failure. At first, he lied to Liz and said he didn’t have the money to pay the huge medical bills he had to pay as an uninsured patient. Then came the news that Charlie had saved over $100,000.

Charlie's 17-year-old daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) stands half-hidden in front of the doorway, looking sad, in The Whale

Photo: Niko Tavernise/A24

Whale understood this to be a combination of altruism – he hoped to give the money to Ellie after his death – and suicidal intent. What makes Aronofsky and Hunter predict Charlie’s motives is Extensive studies have shown why obese patients avoid medical treatment, and it has nothing to do with the complicated mess of a sacrificial messiah. Doctors are only cruel to fat people – and are disproportionately capable of dismissing, demeaning and misdiagnosing them.

The other annoyance is that Brendan Fraser is actually a key asset in the lead role. He plays Charlie, a smart, funny, caring man who loves language and creativity, and doesn’t let the tragic circumstances of his life turn him into a cynic. He sees the best in everyone, including Ellie, to whom he responds to insults with affirmation and support. (You see, she’s hurt.) Fraser’s eyes were kind, and his brows furrowed with sadness and concern.

But if there’s any rage behind those eyes, we don’t see it. If Charlie is just telling people what they want to hear in hopes of minimizing their abuse, it doesn’t make sense. The movie seems content with his surface objections that he’s fine, happy and just a naturally positive guy, which again betrays his lack of interest in love life. Charlie’s inner feelings — despite Fraser’s sensitive attempt to find a man within the symbol.

Aronofsky and his team were more concerned with their own intelligence. Some of the prongs thrown around Charlie’s apartment are actually pretty funny. (The film openly demonstrates its theatrical origins: The whole story takes place within the confines of Charlie’s apartment and front porch.) In particular, Chau brings a comforting warmth to his portrayal of Liz, The type of friend whose love language is playful insults, and whose life purpose is to be a fierce defender. Of course, Liz was also hurt; everyone here. But while everyone suffered, it was Charlie who suffered the most because of it.

If you look at Whale as an allegory, its moral is that it is the responsibility of those who are abused to love and forgive their abusers. The movie thought it was saying, “You don’t understand; he’s fat because he’s miserable. But in the end it says: “You don’t understand; we have to be cruel to fat people, because we is suffering.” Aronofsky and Hunter’s biblical metaphor aside, fat people don’t volunteer to become repositories for society’s outrage and contempt. can feel better about themselves – that’s the self-serving lie that bullies tell themselves.This is an externally imposed martyrdom that negates the point of the exercise.

In Whale, Aronofsky sees his sadism as an intellectual experiment, challenging viewers to find the humanity buried under Charlie’s thick fat. It was not the benevolent premise he thought it was. It stems from the assumption that a 600-pound man is inherently unlovable. It’s like walking up to a stranger on the street and saying, “You’re disgusting, but I love you anyway,” in keeping with the strongly smug Christian leanings the film wants to criticize. Audience members can be proud of themselves that they shed a few tears for this hideous whale, while gaining no new insight into what the whale really was like. any. That is not empathy. It was pity, buried under a thick layer of contempt.

Whale Now showing in theaters.

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