Darren Aronofsky is a director that isn’t for everybody. His films are a little offbeat. That’s not surprising though to most film fans or critics. We’ve been watching his films for a while now. I started watching his films with Requiem For a Dream and Pi. The Fountain wasn’t one of my favorites of his but he has gotten better as far as I’m concerned. The Wrestler and Black Swan are great films and from what I saw regarding The Whale he has another winner on his hands.
Charlie (Brendon Frazer) is an obese reclusive English teacher in Idaho. He tries to be a good guy to his students and he gets along pretty well with his stay-at-home nurse Liz (Hong Chau) When his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) comes to his apartment unexpectedly this changes his life. He feels like he has been given one last chance at redemption. The problem is his daughter isn’t a sweet young girl like he remembered. She’s a bitter angry teenager that doesn’t care about her life or her father who left her at eight years of age.
Aronofsky usually gets a lot out of his actor and that’s no different this time out. Fraser gives the best performance of his career as this overweight man who is on the brink of death at any moment. He infuses his character with a lot of empathy and you just can’t help but feel sorry for him and his plight. Fraser gives everything he had even though the film takes place in his apartment. He rarely moves but when he does it’s a constant struggle to get up and down. He usually needs help from somebody who is at his apartment at the time. The sweat beads off his head and covers his various shirts so it’s very obvious he’s in a constant battle with himself in the shape he’s in. Fraser exudes every moment of this struggle in his performance.
With a character like this, there are going to be people that are going to say this is a film that makes fun of fat people or marginalizes them. And that’s not the case. He goes into a detailed description of why he has gotten this way and why it’s nobody’s fault but his own. He literally says it’s my own fault I’m this way. The problem is he still tries to hide his appearance from his students and a pizza guy that comes by and drops off his dinner every night. He inadvertently marginalizes himself. As someone who has had an obese family member I could relate to him and his situation a lot. Fraser gave me everything I could have expected from this character. He was brilliant.
This story is told in the form of a play and you come to find out it was based on a play about this real man stuck in his apartment because he can or rarely moves. That setting lends itself to this story perfectly. Everyone comes and goes from his apartment letting the viewer see everything from his point of view and it’s not a pretty one. The various views and camera angles are done exceptionally well by Aronofsky within the construct of the apartment.
The Whale isn’t an easy watch. None of Aronofsky’s films are though. He tends to ask the hard questions of the audience about his deeply flawed characters. The topics handled regarding obesity, parenting or lack thereof, and how one looks at themselves are very hard-hitting topics. The flaws we have as humans aren’t easy to overcome. We tend to beat ourselves up over what we perceive ourselves to be or not to be. Aronofsky with the writer’s help doesn’t mince words regarding these heavy topics. A lot of people are going to be turned off by the main character depicted in this movie but they shouldn’t be. Because he is in a way us as a civilization. People of constant gluttony who neglect what really matters in our lives. This film hammers it’s message home perfectly and Fraser knocks this role out of the park.
Dan Skip Allen