Principal Cast : Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins, Hong Chau, Samantha Morton, Sathya Sridharan, Jacey Sink.
Synopsis: A reclusive, morbidly obese English teacher attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter.
Brendan Fraser’s re-emergence into the world of film has been nothing short of extraordinary, and The Whale marks a significant milestone in his career. For the longest time he was one of the poster-boys for hunky Hollywood action stars, leading the rebooted Mummy franchise in the early 00’s, before fading into obscurity for reasons most people weren’t aware of. 2022’s film season marked the resurgence of actors the mainstream had forgotten – not only did Brendan Fraser snag the Best Actor Oscar for his work here, but contemporary actor Ke Huy Kwan, star of Everything Everywhere All At Once and child co-star of Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom, would pick up the Best Supporting Actor role – and although I found The Whale a tough watch, seeing Brendan Fraser deliver one of the all-time great acting turns of this century is quite the pleasure.
Fraser plays Charlie, a once-promising writer who is now morbidly obese and living in isolation. His life is defined by regret and estrangement, particularly from his teenage daughter, Ellie, and ex-wife Mary. Amid his solitude, he finds solace in his online interactions with Liz, a compassionate and enigmatic woman who becomes his lifeline. Brendan Fraser’s transformative performance as Charlie is nothing short of extraordinary, as he navigates the complexities of this character, both physically and emotionally. The film explores Charlie’s journey to make amends with his past and seek reconciliation with his loved ones, particularly Ellie. It’s a poignant and often heart-wrenching narrative that delves into themes of redemption and the enduring power of human connection.
Set against a backdrop of gloom and isolation, The Whale immerses us in Charlie’s world, where his weight and self-destructive choices have left him trapped in a cycle of despair. The film’s deliberate pacing and emotionally challenging atmosphere compel viewers to confront their preconceived notions and biases, urging us to look beyond the surface and find the humanity in every individual. It’s a narrative that doesn’t offer easy answers or resolutions, but instead, it demands introspection and reflection. The Whale is a cinematic test that explores the depths of human suffering and the potential for redemption, making it a compelling and thought-provoking experience for those willing to engage with its dour yet powerful narrative.
Fraser’s transformation for the role is evident from the moment he appears on screen. The physicality and emotional depth he brings to Charlie are awe-inspiring. It’s a raw and authentic performance that goes beyond mere acting—it’s a profound embodiment of a complex character’s inner turmoil. Charlie’s physical appearance, exaggerated through prosthetics and makeup, is jarring and confronting. It’s a testament to Fraser’s dedication to his craft that he was willing to undergo such a transformation. This commitment to the role is the foundation upon which the entire film stands. But it’s not just the physical transformation that captivates us. Fraser manages to convey a deep sense of vulnerability, compassion, and humanity in Charlie. As he navigates his relationships with his estranged daughter, his ex-wife, and an old friend, Fraser’s performance is a masterclass in showcasing the intricacies of the human psyche.
The Whale is a story that revolves around themes of compassion and empathy, and it forces us to confront our own preconceived notions and biases. Charlie’s obesity and estranged relationships have left him in a state of isolation, both physically and emotionally. As we watch his life unfold on screen, we can’t help but feel a sense of empathy for this character. The film examines how society often marginalizes and ostracizes those who don’t conform to traditional standards of beauty and normalcy. It challenges us to question our judgments and biases, urging us to look past the surface and see the humanity that resides within every individual. Charlie’s journey towards reconciliation with his loved ones, particularly his daughter, is poignant and heart-wrenching. Brendan Fraser’s performance makes us feel the weight of Charlie’s remorse and desire for redemption. It’s a testament to the power of human connection and the potential for change, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
While The Whale is undeniably a cinematic triumph in terms of acting and storytelling, it’s essential to address the film’s dour tone and the challenging nature of the narrative. This isn’t a film that offers easy answers or provides a comfortable viewing experience. The isolation that permeates Charlie’s life is mirrored in the film’s overall atmosphere. The settings are often gloomy and claustrophobic, reinforcing the sense of entrapment that Charlie experiences. This sombre backdrop can be emotionally taxing for viewers, making The Whale a bit of a slog at times, and should be avoided by those seeking lighter or more uplifting cinema. It is also quite a triggering film in a number of ways, so viewer discretion is advised.
Moreover, the film’s pacing is deliberate, almost agonizingly slow at times. While this deliberate pacing serves the purpose of immersing us in Charlie’s world, it may test the patience of some viewers. The Whale doesn’t provide quick resolutions or neatly tied storylines, and its commitment to authenticity can be challenging. Director Darren Aaronosfky would be familiar to audiences with his equally provocative films Pi and Requiem For A Dream, so acknowledging the thematic similarities of his work is perhaps key to appreciating the kind of deep-think humanism he displays in this project.
While The Whale may not be the most inviting or easy-to-watch film due to its dour tone and unflinching exploration of isolation, it is a cinematic experience that lingers long after the credits roll. It challenges us to reflect on our own capacity for empathy and compels us to reconsider our judgments of others. If you’re willing to dive into a narrative that explores the depths of human suffering and the potential for redemption, The Whale is a film that demands your attention. Brendan Fraser’s extraordinary performance alone is worth the watch, and it’s a testament to his remarkable comeback in Hollywood. And I, for one, am immensely grateful.
Note: This review is written by the author with additional material provided by ChatGPT.