Review: Oscar-nominated The Whale makes awkward commentary on our complex relationship with food and faith

Brendan Fraser in The Whale

THE WHALE (15, 117 minutes)

Drama. Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins, Samantha Morton. Directed by: Darren Aronofsky.

Rating: 3/5

Release: February 3rd

WHILE innovative T-shirts may proclaim that ‘Fat people are harder to kidnap’, Brendan Fraser’s morbidly obese Charlie Sarsfield is already a prisoner of his own creation in The whaleDarren Aronofsky’s film adaptation of Samuel D Hunter’s award-winning stage production.

When we first meet this sad-eyed 40 stone recluse, he is in the midst of a painful heart attack and his days are numbered in the single digits. Whenever his chest constricts and the panic of oxygen deprivation sets in, Charlie pulls out a precious piece of literary criticism to soothe comfort – an essay on moby dick (yes, there are a lot of ‘whale’ metaphors going on here) in which the author posits that Melville’s excruciatingly detailed detours into the methods and minutiae of whaling are just the narrator’s attempt to offer readers a break from “his own story sad”.

As the film progresses, we gradually learn the details of Charlie’s sad story and why this intelligent and articulate lover of literature closed the door of his squalid apartment to the outside world in order to besiege his body with a daily bout of greasy. fast food.

He can no longer move without the aid of a walker, and even the simple act of getting off the couch to go to the bathroom – we are spared the relentless logistics involved in this particular maneuver, thankfully – requires a herculean effort.

“I was always heavy, but then things kind of got out of hand,” he confesses.

The catalyst for Charlie’s self-destruction involves a double-whammy of guilt from tragic loss and family estrangement that saw this sensitive soul ‘eat his feelings’ through life-changing heartbreak and onwards to a literal, life-threatening heartache. life.

Charlie’s only lifelines to the outside world are the creative writing students he teaches online (with the camera off to spare his blush) and Liz (Hong Chau), the snarky but caring nurse who checks in on him daily.

Initially, it seems like a health visit, but when Liz begs Charlie to visit the hospital after taking an ominous blood pressure reading, he argues that he doesn’t have medical insurance.

“It’s better to be in debt and alive,” Liz warns, to no avail. And, if she’s so concerned about Charlie’s health, why is she also bringing him giant buckets of fried chicken and double meatball sandwiches loaded with extra cheese?

At the The whaleAronofsky and Hunter make somewhat awkward comments about our complex psychological relationship with food, how it has been corrupted by the global dominance of American fast food culture (the giant pitcher of Diet Pepsi that is always by Charlie’s side being a comical visual cue). and how gorging and fasting are similarly self-defeating behaviors linked to depression and mental trauma.

Charlie is clearly addicted to his oversized daily diet, taking comfort and addict pleasure from stuffing it in his face to the point of gagging – Aronofsky captures the visible relief that washes over the character as he noisily devours the aforementioned chicken dinner in a way that’s anything but finger-licking good, and at one point we witness him falling into a manic binge and purging the pizza-devouring spiral set to Rob Simonsen’s unnecessarily melodramatic soundtrack.

Sadie Sink as Ellie

Aronofsky bows to the whales single-stage origins, framing his film in a 1980s narrow TV-spec 4:3 aspect ratio to further enhance its claustrophobic feel, filming Fraser’s fat face, vastly enhanced by prosthetics in unflattering close-up and including several topless scenes in which her huge flabby form is revealed in all its terrible glory.

While we’ve become uncomfortably familiar with Charlie’s monstrous physicality, the character’s specific motivations and traumas remain frustratingly out of focus – a shame, as there’s a terribly ironic element to his overeating that’s potentially a lot more interesting than gawking at fat rolls.

Emotionally fragile Charlie visibly backs off when voices are raised in frustration/anger and his default response to any confrontation is to immediately apologize. This meekness is complemented by naive optimism and a compulsion to see only the good in everyone, even those who are openly hostile to him.

Why? Because ‘metaphor of Christ’. It’s another awkward element of a story where the flaws of organized religion come into play through an enigmatic door-to-door missionary, Thomas (Ty Simpkins).

Toxic teenager Ellie (Sadie Sink) also visits Charlie’s lair, communicating exclusively through angry outbursts, snarky remarks and withering insults. Naturally, he pinned his final hope of redemption on bonding with this astringent teenager.

Most people will be watching The whale to Brendan Fraser’s Oscar-nominated performance, and it’s definitely worth seeing how efficiently he manages to convey the immense emotional charge that weighs even more heavily on the doomed Charlie than his grotesque physical girth.

It’s a shame there isn’t more lean, nutritious meat on the bones of the story itself, and that Aronofsky didn’t bring more of his signature subversion to bear on its flaccid elements.

Review: Oscar-nominated The Whale makes awkward commentary on our complex relationship with food and faith

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