Movie review: The Whale

Director Darren Aronofsky

The WhaleWhen I went to see The Whale at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany with my wife in late January, I was concerned.

Would the film be fatphobic? I don’t believe it was.  This is a man named Charlie (Brendan Fraser) who is in pain, and food is his drug of choice. At some level, I understand that. So the reviewers that complain that his eating disorder wasn’t adequately explained confound me.

Yes, the movie was claustrophobic. Long before reading the end credits, I knew the piece had to have been based on a play that Samuel D. Hunter wrote. For me, this works in its favor.

Charlie has closed himself off. He teaches an online English class, but his video on the laptop “doesn’t work.” His only friend, Liz (Hong Chau) is alternatingly irritated with him and understanding. She’s linked to him in another way.

He misses his daughter, who he had left along with his wife when the girl was just eight. The now-seventeen-year-old Ellie (Sadie Sink) unexpectedly shows up at his house against the express wishes of her mother. She plays mind games with both Charlie and the young evangelist Thomas (Ty Simkins), who keeps showing up at Charlie’s place.

Much has been made of Fraser’s Oscar-nominated performance, and for a good reason. Even those who don’t like the film praise the actor. Chau is also nominated. The performance of Samatha Morton as Mary, Charlie’s ex and Ellie’s mom, really jumped out for me..


Director Darren Aronofsky is the source of much of mixed feelings about the movie. One critic said The Whale didn’t need the director’s “heavy darkness to be effective.” I thought it was appropriate.

Another said the adaptation was “empathetic and soulful,” which I agree with. A third:  the “questions about its purpose – why is this difficult movie about a very difficult man even made – unanswered.”  I don’t understand that observation.

Aronofsky directed one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. In Requiem for a Dream (2000), Ellen Burstyn was nominated for Best Actress. She should have won but lost out to Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, who was fine in that picture.

While I saw The Whale at a cinema, I think it could survive being streamed more than, say, the current Avatar film.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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