‘The Whale’ proves heartbreaking and hopeful

Written By Jake Dabkowski, Editor-in-Chief

The so-called “Brenaissance” (a term used online to refer to the revitalization of actor Brendan Fraser’s career) has hit a new level with Darron Aranonofsky’s “The Whale.” The film follows a dying, morbidly obese man named Charlie, played by Fraser, as he tries to reconnect with his daughter Ellie, played by Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink.

Almost the entirety of the movie is set in Charlie’s apartment, something that adds to the reclusiveness of the character, and makes the story itself function more dramatically. In a traditional movie with multiple sets, two characters stepping outside to have a private conversation would feel little more than another scene, but in this film that conversation carries a whole new dramatic weight to it.

The setting also allows for stylistic cinematography, namely with its use of lighting. The various rooms all have different light sources, and they are used to reflect where characters are thematically within the narrative of the film.

This movie is very good, but it is ultimately Fraser’s performance that drives the entire narrative. His performance is nothing short of phenomenal, and he is definitely a strong contender to win an Oscar.

His performance has, however, been criticized. The main criticism that this film has received is that it is fatphobic for its depiction of obesity. This criticism, while in good faith, is disingenuous. The movie is not about obesity, but rather about unhealthy coping mechanisms that result from trauma.

While Charlie’s eating habits are at the forefront of the film, each of the other characters featured in the film struggle with unhealthy coping mechanisms, whether it be drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and avoidant and restrictive food intake disorders. All of these are present in the film, but they take a backseat to provide thematic padding to point to the root cause of Charlie’s binge eating.

It is also important to note that this movie is not about being overweight, nor does the movie suggest that being overweight is inherently unhealthy. Rather, the movie is about deliberately harming himself by binge eating, a legitimate eating disorder. Charlie is explicitly trying to hurt himself by eating the amount of food that he eats as a means of punishing himself for the guilt that he feels for leaving his family and the loss of his partner.

Because of this, the movie is nothing short of tragic. Many portions of the film, and especially one notable scene depicting binge eating, are very difficult to watch. The situation itself is incredibly bleak, and while there are moments of levity sprinkled throughout the movie, it is still a harrowing and depressing two hours.

That being said, there is a layer of hope underneath the darkness depicted in this film that radiates throughout. Although Charlie is explicitly self-loathing, his ability to see the good in people and his constant optimism for his daughter and other characters levitates this film to a poetic and profound place.

There is a deep power to finding hope, even in the form of a tiny glimmer, in the darkest of situations. If Charlie and his daughter are able to find hope, even for a fragment of a second, then we too can find hope.