Based on a theatrical play of the same name, The Whale, marks Darren Aronofsky’s return to
the big screen since Mother (2017). We watch Charlie, a morbidly obese online English
Literature teacher, over the course of a few days and his attempts to bond with his daughter
whom he had walked out on years before to pursue a relationship with one of his students. The film
occurs after Charlie had lost his partner to suicide and the consequences of this led to
binge-eating and his current state of health.
Aronofsky’s new project was something I had been longing for but in the past year it’s been hard
not to notice the buzz around Brendan Fraser’s so-called comeback. I don’t know how to feel
about this, Fraser’s always been around doing his thing. I believe his run in the Mummy series
had ended and so did the main-stream following of his career but not everybody forgot about
him. I only address this because of the click-bait stories of Fraser, not as a hindrance, but
another aspect of how this coincides with a big film release and the PR around a main star is
beneficial especially during Oscar season. The better ‘comeback’ story for me in the last year
was that of Ke Huy Quan, known as Short Round in Temple of Doom (1984) and Goonies
(1985) and now Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). Do not let this take anything away
from The Whale, this is merely just reality beyond the art.
Now the boring bit is done. One of things I loved about Charlie was his love for literature and
how he adored honesty from his students and also his b**ch of a daughter, whose role was well
filled by Sadie Sink. Mind my language, of course, but in order to fulfil this review to my highest
potential, I can’t help but want to be honest especially after watching this film. Her character has
every right to be angry in this situation. She has only memories of her father as a young child,
the knowledge that he walked out on her and her mother for a male student and an alcoholic mother as
the cherry on top. You can’t help but blame Charlie in this mess he has created but then also
understand that he never was straight and always tried to be in his daughter’s life with only her
mother refusing any help or the presence of Charlie at all.
The last Aronofsky film I had seen in the theatre was Mother (2017). Similarly, the film is set in
one location. In Mother, a house in the middle of the country that seems to feel tight and
congested as the plot thickens (That’s all I’ll say if you haven’t seen it). This was probably my
favourite cinema experience to this day. In The Whale, we are in Charlie’s 1st floor apartment
which already feels so tight and messy coupled with the fact that he is a complete recluse,
refusing to go to the hospital on the brink of a heart attack, not showing himself on camera when
talking passionately to his students and he has to use a zimmer-frame to get from his sofa to the
toilet and to his bed and all over again. For me, as the days go on and Charlie tries harder to
enforce his memory onto his daughter to leave something good behind, this forces the truth to
come out and be dealt with. This is something very hard for Charlie to do as a recluse but also
as someone who is nearly always on the verge of a heart attack let alone when under duress. This can’t
help but make the setting feel more at ease as everything is out in the open and these feelings
are less heavy on Charlie’s mind.
The film really is great in having you, the viewer, feel under duress also with how momentum is
built after every argument and how encapsulated you feel with a high rising heart rate and only
being able to talk to someone from one seat and not being able to chase after them. The shot of
the characters rushing past Charlie’s window and his glimpse of them through the blinds is
something that really stuck with me because that’s the last he could see of them after an
argument and if he dies on the spot then that is how he will be remembered, something he
spends the whole film fighting to change.
This is another film where I know I did not need to watch the trailer, to watch it as I do with
nearly all the films that I watch. I am so glad I did not though I was tempted for this one.
Lastly, as for the Oscar for Actor in a Leading Role. I believe it will be between Colin Farrell for
Banshees and Brendan Fraser. I will be happy with either but I will say that The Banshees of
Inisherin was my favourite film of the last year so I am leaning towards that picture and its cast.
- By Armaan Habib