The Whale (2023) Review
DARREN Aronosfsky is arguably one of the most resourceful and poetic directors working today. His award-winning resume speaks for itself, with films such as Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan shaping his career for years to come. Aronosfsky once again graces us with theatrical brilliance in The Whale: his most magnanimous, well-rounded feature in more ways than one.
Years of emotional loss and weight gain has left English teacher Charlie (Brendan Fraser) reclusive and unwilling to reconnect with the outside world. But after discovering his estranged teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) is trapped in a dark place, Charlie does everything in his limited power to reunite with a daughter who wants nothing to do with her “whale” of a father.
Many have criticised The Whale for its inability to literally step outside the box by having its entire runtime take place inside Charlie’s apartment, causing the pacing to be severely dampened by this self-enforced restriction, and although there are moments where the film does slow down significantly, The Whale keeps its head above water because of the unquestionably genuine writing courtesy of Samuel D. Hunter; the mind behind the 2013 play of the same name.
The solitary nature of Charlie translates from stage to screen wonderfully, with Aronofsky’s signature directing style only adding to the remorseful personality of this whale of a protagonist. His character isn’t just someone we’re supposed to feel pity for; Charlie is a character we’re supposed to learn and grow from due to his plentiful faults whether it be cheating on his wife or abandoning his daughter many years ago. However, at the same time, his actions are remarkably explained, managing to hit that perfect blend of relatability and empathy without allowing Charlie to be absolved of his many sins.
But at the end of the day, there’s a reason people are only talking about one aspect of The Whale: Brendan Fraser’s Oscar-winning performance.
Without hyperbole, The Whale is undoubtedly the greatest performance of Brendan Fraser’s career. His commitment to the role could be easily identified through the hardships he endured wearing the fat-suit on set, but ironically, it’s the little things that add to this literal large than life performance. Fraser’s Charlie is such a complex, flawed character, but through all the hardships, he is still human. These human characteristics most prominently shine during the radiant and funny interactions between Hong Chau’s Liz and Sadie Sink’s Ellie; two performances which are overshadowed by Fraser’s brilliance, but don’t let that fool you: Chau and Sink are incredible in their roles as they represent two sides of the coin in terms of people in Charlie’s limited life.
Liz continually supports and loves Charlie throughout the story despite his obvious faults, while his daughter Ellie criticises her estranged father for the whole film in a manner which never gets old or feels unjustified despite her over-aggressive nature.
The Whale is a tremendous achievement in filmmaking, excelling in the two aspects most important when creating a movie: direction and writing. Aronofsky leads his limited cast through a sincere, unfeigned story that can connect to the most hardened of audiences. Despite being largely carried by Brendan Fraser’s illustrious performance, The Whale is overstuffed in all the worst ways to create a heartbreaking tale of self-immolation and self-reflection that hits home in all the right ways.