The Whale – Film Review
by Brian Merriman
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay by Samuel D. Hunter, Based on The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Samantha Morton
Two Mr Fs are in the running for the Best Actor Oscar this year. There will be no shame if Mr Farrell does narrowly miss out to Mr Fraser if he gets the final nod.
‘The Whale’ is the story of Charlie (Fraser) who is physically unrecognizable except for his beautiful spoken English. The make-up and prosthetics are flawless. It is based on Samuel D Hunter’s 2012 play of the same name and there is definitely a theatrical quality when it comes to the depth and intensity of the characterisation that the writer preserves in his transfer of his work to the screen. The underscoring of the theme by referencing ‘Moby Dick’ is additionally poignant.
This is a difficult film to watch. It goes into aspects of the reclusive male life rarely, if ever, acknowledged in society or cinema.
Behind present-day Charlie, is a younger love story. One filled with rejection from religion, family and friends. Its cruel ongoing impact on the lives whose true expression of the deepest human emotion, finally found a response in each other, despite a hostile society. They were courageous to turn their back on their lives to be with each other at a huge personal cost.
But hatred and exclusion can cling on, even gnawing away in fine academic minds. It now manifests itself in extreme self-loathing. The intent of the constructed hatred is to make you believe you mean less because of who you are. It has its measure of success in the physical Charlie but he still has some freedom in his mind. Anorexia and overwhelming obesity are the contradicting responses to the same exclusion experienced by this couple.
This is a tragic story and it hits home. Charlie is a teacher who tries to liberate the honest voices of his online students. He has experienced many life lessons and his response in the recent past is to inflict on his body, the pain he feels from loss of love and family. It is at times heart breaking to watch his inevitable journey to relief. It is also a struggle to deny him that goal.
For a recluse, he gets a lot of visitors. As is often the case in intimate dramas, the well -crafted sub plots are equally impactful. You hurt one person, you hurt more than you realise. There is a stellar supporting cast. The cunning Ellie (an intense Sadie Sink) has all the certainty of a troubled, angry 17 year old. Liz, his friend who nurses him, dreads the pending emptiness of the inevitable ending. Thomas (a fine, complex study by Ty Simpkins) is a young missionary who has a secret. Mary (a strong Samantha Morton, unrecognisable from her TV role in ‘The Harlots’) has regrets.
There is a deep embedded unhappiness explored by all who suffer when love is rejected and excluded. There is no morality in that and none is claimed. Even Dan the delivery man – all care in some way. The on-screen dynamic of this talented ensemble misses nothing in Hunter’s carefully crafted screenplay, so well directed by Darren Aronofsky.
The reality of his ‘disgusting’ body image is unfiltered. For any actor to endure the physicality and emotional negativity of this role is quite something and Fraser’s Charlie is astonishingly real. The constant close ups leave us nowhere to look away. His mobility and binge- eating scenes are tough to watch. You must watch to understand.
Charlie assures us, despite his trauma, that ‘people are incapable of not caring’. He believes that, despite what he has experienced and inflicted. He constantly responds to every enquiry that he is ‘fine’.
I’m not fine after seeing this surprisingly moving film of lives hurt and hidden. I’m not fine to be reminded so vividly, of the consequences of the ignorance of man’s ability to love and be loved. I’m still not ‘fine’ afterwards, but I am deeply impressed with this quality film. The reality of the subject matter and the theatricality of the performances in a cinematic treatment will live on and on…but only for people capable of caring.
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