Brendan Fraser gives a career-defining performance in Darren Aronofsky’s arrestingly intimate drama.
Brendan Fraser gives a career-defining performance in this arrestingly intimate drama from director Darren Aronofsky. _The Whale_ invites us to identify with a man in a precarious state of isolation that has been exacerbated by a potentially lethal mix of technology and our culture of body shaming.
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Writing instructor Charlie (Fraser) never seems to have his webcam enabled while teaching online. He makes excuses and is so good-natured that no one makes a fuss, but the real reason for his invisibility is his appearance. Charlie weighs 600 pounds. His obesity starts to pose a grave threat to his health and his friend Liz (Hong Chau), a nurse, begs him to check into a hospital, but also recognizes that it might be more important to simply offer support.
Charlie’s current status quo is upended by the return of his long-estranged adolescent daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink), though her willingness to resume a relationship seems prompted as much by Charlie’s offers to ghostwrite her school essays as it is by her sense of familial loyalty. Meanwhile, Charlie receives visits from a door-to-door evangelist (Ty Simpkins) who engages him in a dialogue about redemption that, despite Charlie’s lack of religious inclination, proves surprisingly resonant. Can any of these folks, regardless of their personal agendas, serve as the lifeline to self-acceptance that Charlie so urgently needs?
Screenwriter Samuel D. Hunter, here adapting his own play, has already proved himself a compassionate chronicler of offbeat characters with the FX series Baskets. With The Whale — the title a reference to Moby Dick, Charlie’s favourite book — Hunter has given us a story that fuses love, grief, and discomfort as a zigzag path to empathy.
Official Selection, 2022 Toronto International Film Festival
Winner of Academy Award for Best Actor (Brendan Fraser)
Content advisory: disordered eating, coarse language, sexually suggestive scenes