The Whale shoves all Darren Aronofsky’s worst themes into a fat suit
This review of The Whale was originally published following its premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. To be fair, some people enjoy this kind of miserabilism.
For a movie that, in the most generous reading possible, encourages viewers to consider that maybe there’s a painful backstory behind bodies they consider ...
...“disgusting” (the movie’s word), The Whale seems to have little interest in the point of view of its protagonist, Charlie (Brendan Fraser).
Charlie is a middle-aged divorcé living in a small apartment somewhere in Idaho, where he teaches English composition classes online.
If an alien landed on Earth and wondered whether the human species found its largest members attractive or repellent, The Whale would clearly communicate the answer.
He plays ominous music under these sequences, so we know Charlie’s doing something very bad indeed.
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 movie: Charlie is a saint, a ...
...Christ figure, the fat man who so loved the world that he let people in his life treat him like complete dogshit in order to absolve them of their hatred, and him of his sins.
Depends on whether they’re fat, it seems. At first, he lies to Liz and says he doesn’t have the money to pay the massive medical ...
...bills he’d rack up as an uninsured patient. Then it emerges that Charlie has more than $100,000 tucked away in savings.
The other frustrating thing is that Brendan Fraser is actually a significant asset in the title role. But if there’s any rage behind those eyes, we don’t see it. Liz is hurting, too, of course; everyone is here.
But while everyone is hurting, Charlie has to suffer the most for it.
The movie thinks it’s saying, “You don’t understand; he’s fat because he’s suffering.” But it ends up saying, “You don’t understand; we have to be cruel to fat people, ...
...because we are suffering.” Aronofsky and Hunter’s biblical metaphor aside, fat people didn’t volunteer to serve as repositories for society’s rage and contempt.
This is an externally imposed martyrdom, which negates the point of the exercise. In The Whale, Aronofsky posits his sadism ...
...as an intellectual experiment, challenging viewers to find the humanity buried under Charlie’s thick layers of fat.
It’s like walking up to a stranger on the street and saying, “You’re an abomination, but I love you anyway,” in keeping with the strong strain of self-satisfied Christianity that the film purports to critique.