The Whale: Drab Yet Beautiful

Photo by: Charlie Martin

Rating: 4.5/5

The Whale is one of the most miserable, uncomfortable movies of 2022, and I cannot recommend it enough.

The Whale follows Charlie (Brendan Fraser), a 600-pound man experiencing severe health problems. Knowing he will die soon, he tries to reconnect with his daughter who he hasn’t seen in eight years. This is Fraser’s first leading role in over a decade, as he was blacklisted from Hollywood after accusing Philip Berk — the now-former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — of sexually assaulting him. Despite his lengthy absence, Fraser doesn’t miss a step and performs this role brilliantly.

Charlie is not glamorous. He can hardly lean forward — let alone stand upright — and has been unable to leave his apartment for years; in fact, the entire film takes place in that single apartment. He copes with stress by eating, creating a cycle of weight-related stress making him eat more and gaining more weight. 

And yet he is an admirable person; he loves people, even those who wrong him. There are multiple points in the film where it seemed like Charlie would — justifiably — snap and lash out at those who were mistreating him, yet he remains compassionate. He lashes out one time, and while he was arguing with someone it was directed at the only person he hates: himself.

This makes his condition hard to watch: when he’s at his lowest in the movie he intentionally starts eating worse, and it sucks seeing this gentle man self-destruct like this. I usually only look away from movies to avoid gore, but I actually had to distract myself during these scenes.

The other central characters are also strong, and each of them interact with each other and Charlie in different ways. The one character who is hard to sympathize with was Charlie’s daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink). She is abrasive and cruel, even by teenager standards; this is to further emphasize Charlie’s compassion. Yet she does some truly horrible things in this movie, and it can be hard to sympathize with her when she finally shows some acceptance for her father. 

She’s especially irritating because her reason for acting this way — seeing her parents get divorced when she was eight — is incredibly banal; I know more children of divorce than children with both parents, yet none of them act as cruelly as Ellie. Still, I found myself coming around to her near the ending, though I suspect that had more to do with empathising with Charlie than with her.

Despite being uncomfortable at times, The Whale is a wonderful movie about trying to make amends before it’s too late. A24 has (rightly) received high praise for one of their other 2022 films, Everything Everywhere All At Once, and I think The Whale deserves that same recognition.

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