A Vile Disaster: THE WHALE
Updated: Jan 21
The Whale is viscerally dreadful. It's an emotional journey between a tenderhearted, obese father (Brendan Fraser) and his estranged heavy-tempered daughter (Sadie Sink) that fades into a soul crushing calamity. There are these moments where love becomes a form of healing while simultaneously it tightens the noose around the neck of self destruction. Darren Aronofsky through his chosen imagery deliberately expresses Charlie's fleshy body as a center point or better yet his apartment being voided of any natural light other than the front door, which reluctantly brings in a fractured support system of Charlie's severely limited ecosystem, wherein a blatant ugly truth parades itself; Charlie is slowly committing suicide and no missionary door salesmen, nor nurse friend, or angry daughter is going to stop him.
This was a strenuously tragic movie to get through, it pierces the fundamental subject of mental health, dramatized to feel aware of itself that stretches the crossroads of one man's ego, that his one attribution is assuring his only child to understand that she is amazing. The sentiment is faintly melodramatic but also highlights Charlie's selfish agenda. He refuses to go to a hospital. He refuses to get help. He refuses to participate in life other than to teach online college courses about writing and even hides himself from his students by lying about his webcam being broken. Charlie is broken. This is no different than an alcoholic numbing the pain or a person addicted to painkillers, or a depressed human fantasizing about death. We live in a society full of sad, struggling humans, some who will have a support system to help and others who do not share the same advantages.
Charlie is a man defined by his weight, and the excruciating long shots of him binge eating is elevating the heightened drama of his pain. This is a practice of self harm. Aronofsky is fusing mental health with horror by focusing on the struggle Charlie endures day after day, where his breathing fades into wheezing or the sweat secreting profusely as his heart fights to keep everything functional. One of the heartbreaking parts isn't knowing that Charlie can't help himself, it's the stranger, friend, and family member who do nothing more than enable the behavior whether that's Liz handing him another meatball sub, or Ellie gawking at his grotesque body by exploiting a photo of it on her Facebook page, or Thomas feigning that God choose him to help save Charlie. There is no saving someone who refuses to be saved. And yet Charlie delivers this line of dialogue, which really is a question. It ties this entire crusade together that sardonically and irritatingly throbs of positivity. "Do you ever get the feeling that people are incapable of not caring?" Ellie, Charlie's daughter essentially rats Thomas (the missionary door salesman) out about his previous discretion and despite having stolen from his congregation his parents want him back home and all is forgiven. Charlie perceives this as Ellie having a caring nature despite her combative behavior and for him it's a sense of grace and reassurance, she'll be OK when he's gone. Even if it's a slightly skewed way of perceiving compassion, it's compassion nonetheless. But I suppose the real question is really about the pain Charlie feels, which has lead him to find solace in binge eating. The culprit is grief. Charlie lost his partner and ever since such a loss, as his partner also lost interest in living after losing his way once his family and religion ousted him for being gay, everything fell apart. This is the crux of the matter, buried beneath the layers of anguish, pain, and suffering which comes full circle when Thomas being a member of said religion tries to help. It exasperates the situation but also gives Charlie and Liz a moment to confront the demon in their lives' and I won't give away why.
I just can't with this movie. It's meant to resonate with you, because either everyone knows someone or is that someone going through depression or is deliberately albeit slowly sabotaging themselves diminishing what little self worth they feel within themselves. It screams irrevocably for those who feel trapped, trapped in not being able to or want to feel the harsh vulnerabilities, which for some may inadvertently feel shame. There's nothing to be ashamed of or feel as if your standard of existing doesn't measure up to a certain benchmark. Caring about yourself matters and not to the extent of selfishness, but believing in yourself to achieve more than you deserve. Many will say this is a fat-phobic disaster, but I don't think the focus was to make a mockery of the obese, I think it's a catalyst to look at
depression more seriously. However, the thing that thematically stuck out to me was honesty. "Write me something honest" echoes like a freight train howling its way across the tracks. Look at yourself in the mirror and be honest with yourself, look at yourself being in the world and be honest with yourself. Charlie's character is a people pleaser. He wants everyone to be ok, everyone but himself and when he doesn't feel like everyone is ok, he repeatedly apologizes. To me it seems his self worth is valued in the opinions of those closest to him and what does this really do to a person's cognitive function?
Like MOTHER! I don't believe I'll ever watch THE WHALE again, the impact hit too deeply in a way that it only left a trail of tears across my blotchy face, as I'm sure many have felt once the credits rolled. It's an emotional barracuda of great intensity where there are genuinely profound moments given by dedicated performances by Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins, and Samantha Morton. I'm sure they'll receive many accolades for their work, deservedly so, but the story itself is a play and to see it translated to film is remarkable. Samuel D Hunter did a decent job writing it, but the actors brought it to life in a way I can't fully articulate. It transcends the boundaries of film, reaches in to bitch slap the humanity out of you reiterating a sentiment the Eagles once sang, "we are all just prisoners here, of our own device"