Review | ‘The Whale’ is a deeply affecting film that will move you

The Whale | In cinemas now| Dir: Daren Aronofsky | ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The film starts with a blank computer screen, before we see students in a Zoom session for a college writing class who joke about their tutor not managing to get his camera to work. Working from his dingy apartment, and unable to leave it, the morbidly obese Charlie (Brendan Fraser) doesn’t want his students to see him.

Charlie wasn’t always obese. He was once married, with a young daughter, but then he fell in love with another man and was forced to leave all that. After the death of his partner Alan, he has been on a self-destructive path to eat himself to death and refuse medical attention.

His only visitors are his friend and nurse Liz (Hong Chau) and Thomas (Ty Simpkins), a missionary from the New Life Church who thinks he’ll be saved by saving Charlie’s soul. The only other visitor is Charlie’s estranged hurt-fueled teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) who Brendan wants to apologise to before he departs this world.

There is so much drama hemmed in by the walls of the small apartment and brought to life by award-winning acting. Ellie actually hates everyone and is failing at school, and Charlie agrees to help her with her English, and will even pay her if she’ll spend some time with him.

Director Darren Aronofsky is known for films where his characters are dealing with major addictions which are wrecking their lives. In Requiem for a Dream (2000), a group of heroin addicts living on Coney Island dream about better lives. In The Wrestler (2008), Mickey Rourke is a former wrestler who is obsessed with reclaiming his former glory. In the unforgettable Black Swan (2010), Natalie Portman’s character is so obsessed with perfecting her role in Swan Lake that hallucinations merge with her reality.

Apart from allusions to Charlie’s weight, the title of the film comes from the central motif, an essay by a young student on the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville, that Charlie has read so many times that he knows it by heart. This is a deeply affecting film continues Aronofsky’s penchant for self-destructive leads whose addictions hide a troubled soul.

Lezly Herbert

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