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  • Writer's pictureRua Fay

Aronofsky's Most Harrowing Film Yet

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

On December 21st, after months of touring the festival circuit, Darren Aronofsky's new highly anticipated film, The Whale, finally reached local theaters around the country. It is currently one of the most talked about films of the year despite most people not even seeing it yet, it still technically does not have an official poster. It also happens to be one of the most striking films I have seen in a very long time.

The Whale centers around the main character, Charlie, a morbidly obese English teacher played by Brendan Fraser as he attempts to reconnect with his daughter, Ellie, played by Sadie Sink. The film is based off the play of the same name by Samuel D. Hunter which premiered off-Broadway in 2012. Most of the praise the film has gotten has been attributed to Fraser's performance in the lead role, which can easily be called the best performance of his three decade long career. Even publications that gave the film a mixed reception still fawned over Fraser's portrayal. Despite only being in theaters for less than two weeks, he is already being predicted to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. Charlie, as a character, can easily be dismissed as a monster, a fat, disgusting, creature that dwells in his dark apartment, never seeing the sun. But this couldn't be farther from the truth. Fraser portrays Charlie with a lot of care, he is sympathetic character who is made of the best parts of all of us. He lives in a situation that could turn anyone cold and callous but through all the trauma and heartbreak, Charlie remains kind and compassionate. He leaves food out for the birds on his window, he refuses to spend money on hospital bills because he intends to give it all to his daughter, Ellie, he lives for other people.

Throughout the film, the audience learns Charlie's origin story, how he wasn't always 600lbs, doomed to live a life on his couch. In fact, he was diagnosed with some kind of binge-eating disorder after the suicide of his boyfriend, Alan. A man he ended up leaving his wife and 8 year old daughter for, nine ears prior to the film's beginning. Charlie's only friend is Liz, a nurse, and the sister of his deceased boyfriend. She is extremely protective of Charlie and is the one who breaks the news to him that he is suffering from congestive heart failure. Liz is played by actress, Hong Chau who is proving to have a banner year in her career, having also starred in The Menu with Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy. Chau gives a very emotional, empathetic performance that is often overshadowed by Fraser's but it is still worthy of praise. As a character, Liz represents the supportive loved-one who must watch someone close to them waste away because they refuse to accept help.

The Whale is a still film, only taking place within Charlie's apartment with no secondary locations. However, it is an extraordinarily dense film with many themes. It is a film about religion, family, beauty, heartbreak, unconditional love, and the human spirit.

I rarely get left speechless by film, and even less often am I brought to tears, but The Whale turned me into a sobbing mess before the credits rolled. Scenes range from pitiful to straight up disturbing, and there's no doubt this will be an upsetting watch for a lot of people, for a plethora of reasons. But despite how difficult of a watch it may be, The Whale is a film that simply demands to be seen. It is a downright haunting film that reminds you of just how precious life is and amazing tenacity of the human spirit. While you may look nothing like Charlie, you will be able to see parts of yourself in his character, and your heart will simply ache for him. The film's third act is something that truly has to be seen to be believed. I have never been so distraught leaving a movie theater in my life. I have seen over 2,400 movies, but very, very few have stuck with me like The Whale.

The Whale is a film that has been high up on my watchlist since I heard rumors of its production. It has now been over a week since my first viewing of The Whale and ever since then, I cannot manage to shake it from my head. Darren Aronofsky is not a director known for his comforting movies, almost everything he's produced has been disturbing, deeply cynical, and a tough watch to say the least. Looking back on his career, The Whale is probably the first Aronofsky film to convey a sense of genuine hope rather than despair and misery and personally, I think it suits him.

The Whale is not a film for the faint of heart, and I would advise anyone who intends to see it to exercise extreme caution before going to the theater. But if you are truly willing to endure it, you will be exposed to one of the most harrowing, memorable films of the year. I really hope this isn't the end of Aronfsky and Fraser as a creative duo.

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