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The Whale review: Brendan Fraser is 'amazing', but 'sorry'

For Brendan Fraser, The Whale has unquestionably become a pivotal movie in his career. But as a movie, not so much, as the theme of the movie conflicts with the script.

The Whale review: Brendan Fraser is 'amazing', but 'sorry'
Brendan Fraser in a still from The Whale

Last Updated: 02.25 PM, Mar 16, 2023


The Whale, a film by Darren Aronofsky, tells the tale of a reclusive English teacher who makes an effort to get back in touch with his estranged teenage daughter. Based on the classic play by Samuel D. Hunter and starring Brendan Fraser in the lead role.


In one of the scenes towards the end of The Whale, Brendan Fraser plays Charlie, whose self-destruction mode takes another level when he binges on large cheese pizzas and adds toppings of ham and turkey to his slices. Does he want to live? Well, he is aware that he is dying and is in no way in dire need of seeking treatment. He wheezes, coughs loudly when he laughs, and cannot stand up on his own. But Charlie still sees positivity in life and calls people around him "amazing," especially his daughter, now and then.

That's not the only word that's constant in The Whale; there's "sorry" too. Fraser in a fat suit goes against everything The Whale was trying to do, making for an emotional experience that may or may not be respectful. Herman Melville made Moby Dick, a sperm whale, for his book of the same name. In the essay, a line about Moby Dick is repeated, which gives his heart temporary comfort.


The Whale is set in an aspect ratio of 4:3, like in older times, making for a more compact viewing experience. We don't see the outside world, just like Charlie doesn't. He has morbid obesity, and he looks up online the words his nurse and best friend Liz, who is played by the brilliant Hong Chau, uses to describe his symptoms. She has been his only human contact for a very long time. She personally knows why he is in this self-destructive mode, but she doesn't stop him. Liz gets him a meatball sandwich and a bucket of chicken wings, which is like a drug he needs to distract himself from feeling sorry for himself.

But why is Charlie "sorry"? He left his wife and eight-year-old daughter for a man who died by suicide for reasons that bring the Bible into the picture. He is sorry because he didn't have any contact with his daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) for almost nine years but couldn't stop gushing when she was around. That casting is totally on point, with great similarities between Fraser and Sink.

Based on the stage play by writer Samuel D. Hunter, who is also the screenwriter of the film, "The Whale" gives a broadway experience as it's only set in one place—Charlie's two-bedroom apartment. The setup is claustrophobic and brings on a one-man show, which slightly leads to discomfort. The Whale has a lot of the melodramatic themes and disturbing elements that Darren Aronofsky is known for.

From the start, we see how a lonely, obese man "touches" himself by watching gay porn. And lo, a young missionary enters the house on a gloomy, rainy day, making things awkward from the start. He has a mild heart attack, and this starts the countdown to the last seven days of his life. Charlie, on the other hand, believes in goodness at every step and also takes online English literature classes, but he always keeps his camera turned off for obvious reasons. But he is great at his job and extends that to his daughter too.

The premise is too simple, and we know where the end line is. But as the story goes on for 2 hours and 17 minutes, it starts to feel strange. The movie aims to be a moving examination of remorse, guilt, sexuality, and religion. But it's not tough to understand, as those are open discussions where homosexuality and religion are mentioned together most of the time.

You feel a little fear (for lack of a better word, "disturbing"), which is the forte of Aronofsky; never forget Black Swan. As the film progresses, he begins to question himself—how will he die, does he have a death wish, and so on. The intentions become very clear, but so do his selfish motives, which he covers up with a "sorry."

In his "comeback vehicle," Brendan Fraser gives an honest and amazing performance. For this, he was nominated for an Oscar, as he should have been. The actor bares it all, with his binge-eating habits, wearing that fat suit, bawling like a baby, and being in a claustrophobic space. His performance is here to stay for a long time, making The Whale a very hard watch.

Another actor to watch out for in the film is Hong Chau, who also received an Oscar nomination. When she comes into the picture, you just want to see her and how she deals with the situation, with teary eyes but a commanding tone. The actor excelled at hiding her vulnerabilities as Liz, showing that one has to always be a stronger person, and that's the only way to help themselves.

Sadie Sink's character seems to be an extension of her Stranger Things role, but you cannot take away the fact that she is a brilliant actor. Being manipulative but also finally saying "daddy" will make your heart weep for her and make you feel bad because she is not wrong in portraying the stereotypical kid of divorced parents.

Samantha Morton comes as a delightful surprise as Charlie's ex-wife and Ellie's mother. She is incredible in her one-scene appearance and shows how powerful a performer she is, who can also be a show-stealer.

When these supporting actors are brought into frame, they play a beautiful distraction to Fraser's character, which works in the film's favour but not for him.

The Whale indicates that Charlie, like Moby Dick, is not a monster but is personified as Wool, who is a loner in the big ocean. Here is his world. Visitors may come and go, but his suffering is alone, and only he could have helped himself if he wished to.


The Whale has become a career-defining film for Brendan Fraser, for sure. But as a film, not so much, because the film's theme contradicts the screenplay. 

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