The Whale pushes all of Darren Aronofsky’s worst themes into a fat suit

This review Whale Originally published following its premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Updated and republished for the film’s theatrical release.

A24’s Whale Darren Aronofsky’s worst tendencies fall into a fat suit. It’s an exercise in meanness in the way Aronofsky tortured him Requiem for a dreambut it focuses on a more vulnerable target than massAddicts. It’s also full of biblical animals for pets the mother!And the NoahAnd the Fountainbut centers around the character of the Messiah whose supernatural power is to absorb the cruelty of everyone around him and store it safely within his massive body.

To be fair, some people enjoy that kind of misery. But those viewers also warned that not only is this movie hard to stomach and potentially actively harmful to some audiences, it’s also a self-serving reinforcement of the status quo – one of the most boring things a movie can be.

For a film that, in the best possible reading, encourages viewers to consider that there may be a haunting background behind bodies they deem “disgusting” (the movie’s word), Whale He seems to care little about protagonist Charlie’s (Brendan Fraser) point of view. Charlie is a middle-aged divorcee who lives in a small apartment somewhere in Idaho, where he teaches online English composition classes. Charlie never turns his camera on during lectures, because he’s fat – very fat, about 600 pounds. Charlie has difficulty getting around without a walker, and has adaptive devices such as grab sticks hidden around his house.

If an alien landed on earth and wondered whether the human race found its largest member attractive or repulsive, Whale He will convey the answer clearly. Aronofsky plays Foley’s voice when Charlie eats, to emphasize the wet sound of lips crashing together. He plays ominous music under these sequences, so we know Charlie is on to something Really very bad. Frasier’s neck and upper lip are perpetually streaked with sweat, and his shirt is dirty and covered in crumbs. At one point, he takes off his shirt and slowly makes his way to his bed, with rolls of artificial fat hanging from his body as he leans toward the camera like the ruthless beast that he is. In case viewers didn’t realize they were supposed to find him disgusting, he reads an article about him Moby Dick and how the whale is a “poor big animal” with no feelings.

And that’s exactly what Aronofsky is conveying about him by directing the movie. story in WhaleThe first half of his life is a challenge of humiliation, starting as an evangelist named Thomas (Ty Simpkins) meddling with Charlie having a heart attack, gay porn still playing on his laptop from a pathetic attempt at masturbation. Charlie’s nurse and only friend, Liz (Hong Zhao), is mostly nice to him, though she gets him meatballs and buckets of fried chicken. So is Thomas, though he is less interested in Charlie as a person than in the soul that needs to be saved. But Charlie’s 17-year-old daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) publicly despises him, and says the most vicious things she can think of to punish Charlie for leaving her and her mother, Mary (Samantha Morton), when Ellie was eight.

Aronofsky and writer Samuel D. Hunter (adapting his own play) don’t reveal the point of condescension in all of this until the second half of the movie: Charlie is a saint, a messiah figure, and the fat man who loved the world too much. That he let the people in his life treat him like a complete oppressor to absolve them of their hatred and of his sins. Meanwhile, a subplot involving Thomas’ former life in Iowa makes the bizarre assertion that people are actually trying to help when they treat others inappropriately, which can only be true if the object of that animosity doesn’t know what’s good for them. So what is it? Should a person turn the other cheek, or be cruel to be kind? It seems to depend on whether they are fat. Charlie never comments on the other characters’ smoking and drinking, but they certainly do comment about his weight.

It’s probably the most frustrating thing Whale Is how close it is to some kind of insight. Aronofsky and Hunter needed to show some empathy and curiosity about the size of people Charlie, rather than fatherly guessing at their motives. The main culprit here is a plot point in which Charlie refuses to go to the hospital, even though his blood pressure is dangerously high and he is showing symptoms of congestive heart failure. At first, he lies to Liz and says he doesn’t have the money to pay the huge medical bills he would have collected as an uninsured patient. Then it emerges that Charlie has over $100,000 in savings.

Photo: Niko Tavernise/A24

Whale He understands this as a combination of selflessness – he hopes to give this money to Ellie after he dies – and suicide. What gives Aronofsky and Hunter projections about Charlie’s motives is that extensive studies have shown why obese patients avoid medical treatment, and it has nothing to do with sacrificing themselves to Christ’s complex nonsense. Doctors are harsh on obese people — and disproportionately likely to dismiss them, insult them, and misdiagnose them.

The other frustrating thing is that Brendan Fraser is actually an important asset in the title role. He plays Charlie as a smart, funny, and thoughtful man who loves language and creativity, and refuses to let the tragic circumstances in his life turn him into a cynic. He sees the best in everyone, even Ellie, whose insults he fends off with affirmations and support. (She’s in pain, you see.) Fraser’s eyes are kind, his eyebrows furrowed with sadness and concern.

But if there is any anger behind those eyes, we don’t see it. If Charlie is just telling people what they want to hear in hopes of minimizing their abuse, it doesn’t translate. The film seems content with its superficial objections that it’s fine, happy, and just a naturally positive guy, which again betrays its lack of interest in Charlie’s inner emotional life – despite Frasier’s delicate attempt to find a man within the code.

Aronofsky and his team care more about their own intelligence. Some of the barbs thrown at Charlie’s apartment are actually pretty funny. (The film overtly shows off its theatrical roots: the entire story takes place within the confines of Charlie’s apartment and front porch.) Chow in particular brings spiky warmth to her role as Liz, the kind of friend whose endearing language is playful insults, and whose purpose in life is to be a fierce advocate. Liz is also in pain, of course; Everyone is here. But while everyone else is suffering, Charlie has to suffer the most.

If you look at Whale As a myth, the moral is that it is the responsibility of the abused to love and forgive his mistreatment. The movie thinks he’s saying, “You don’t understand; he’s fat because he’s suffering.” But ended up saying, “You don’t understand; we have to be tough on fat people, because we It is suffering.” Aronofsky and Hunter’s biblical metaphor aside, fat people don’t volunteer to serve as repositories of society’s wrath and contempt. No one agrees to being bullied until the bully feels better about themselves—that’s a self-serving lie that bullies tell themselves. This is martyrdom imposed from the outside. It negates the point of the exercise.

in Whale, Aronofsky posits sadism as a thought experiment, challenging viewers to find humanity buried under Charlie’s thick layers of fat. This is not as good a hypothesis as he seems to think it is. He proceeds from the assumption that a 600-pound man is inherently unlikable. It’s like going up to a stranger on the street and saying, “You’re an abomination, but I love you anyway,” in keeping with the powerful push of self-satisfied Christianity that the film purports to criticize. Audience members walk away proud of themselves for having shed a few tears for this disgusting whale, while gaining no new idea of ​​what it’s like to be that whale in reality. This is not sympathy. This is unfortunate, buried under a thick, stifling layer of disdain.

Whale Now playing in theatres.

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