Light, camera, and performance are what director, Darren Aronofsky said The Whale is about in his introduction at the film’s premiere at the BFI London Film Festival. For him, that’s the beating heart of The Whale. For me. it’s also about hope, humanity, and redemption.
Brendan Fraser’s performance in The Whale is reminiscent of Mickey Rourke’s comeback in The Wrestler. Fun fact, both of these movies are directed by Darren Aronofsky and both actors received an Oscar nomination for best actor. Fraser’s performance is a tour de force and so much is said through movement, or attempt at, and facial expressions. Yes, stuff is exaggerated but at the heart of The Whale is a lonely divorcee, who is slowly suffocating himself through overeating because his lover died and he’s estranged from his daughter. Every time he has an anxiety attack he reads the essay she wrote about Moby Dick, hence the film’s title.
Before covid, I’d have described The Whale as an interesting and heartwarming indie film. However, this film is incredibly moving especially for me, as I spent the pandemic alone and so was acutely aware of the absence of human connection. The converse is shown in this film, Charlie (Brendan Fraser) cannot bear to be seen even though he craves it. The pizza delivery scenes are all the more heart wrenching for it. The supporting cast of Hong Chau and Samantha Morton are outstanding, both of whom should have been nominated. Whilst the description of The Whale can sound quite earnest, it is actually quite funny and poignant. The screenwriter, Samuel D Hunter, explained that he had suffered from obesity like Charlie and a lot of the script was based on his own journey.
The only criticism I have of the film is that it needed ruthless editing. The Whale contains a few self indulgent scenes.
The Whale is released in UK cinemas on 3 February 2023.