Diving deep into self-destruction

Shocking new film reinvents a story about addiction


Thanks to the excellent performance and acting exhibited by Brendan Fraser it was only fair when he received the honor of Best Actor at the Oscars 2023.

Quinn Burton, Editor-in-Chief

“The Whale” is a deeply moving story about redemption, loss and trauma. The film revolves around a morbidly obese middle-aged man named Charlie (Brendan Fraser), after losing his boyfriend Charlie goes into complete shock and denial and starts to gain weight uncontrollably, becoming rather pessimistic, as opposed to an eternal optimist in which he is remembered as. He uses food as a coping mechanism to suppress his deep-rooted feelings. This insatiable hunger lasts for eight years, until his rebellious daughter Ellie shows up on a whim. 

After not having a hit movie in nearly a decade, Fraser is finally taking a dip back into the acting scene; however, this time he looks a bit different. Thanks to over 300 pounds of prosthetics, Fraser looks utterly unrecognizable as Charlie. The undeniable transformation was an exceptional showcase of artistry from the hair and makeup department, so it wasn’t a surprise  when they garnered the award for best hair and makeup in a feature film at the Oscars 2023. 

The opening scene of the film shocks as we see Charlie on the cusp of death. Frantically rolling around his coach, 600 lb Charlie struggles to gasp for air as his lungs begin to lose function, preventing him from breathing; however, at the knock of the door an unexpected guest arrives, saving Charlie’s life. Right off the bat I was intrigued and ready to see what could possibly happen next- and I was certainly surprised. A missionary by the name of Thomas runs in to help Charlie and insists he joins the New Life Church. Despite Thomas’s efforts, Charlie only envisions a future that consists of him six feet below the ground. Hopeless, Charlie makes plans to amend his relationship with his daughter and ex-wife because he knows it’s the last time he’ll ever see them. 

Almost the entirety of the story takes place in about 300 square feet of the upstairs apartment Charlie is confined to. The tight space adds tension to every interaction between the four characters, especially with Charlie’s daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink). After offering her the $120,000 that he has left to his name, Charlie traps Ellie into spending time with him without her mothers knowledge. However, no matter how hard Charlie tries it’s nearly impossible for Ellie to look past her fathers disgust and sit down for a conversation. It seems as though poor Charlie can never catch a break as nobody is willing to look past his appearance. 

While watching the film, I’ve found that Aronofsky challenges us to see beyond our biases and prejudiced ideas of attractiveness to find beauty in Charlie, in the warm, enveloping melody of his speaking voice, in his poetic, passionate soul. And it makes the audience emotional that Charlie’s last moments will be spent in solitude. I myself wanted to see him reconnect and make amends with his family, but it seems no matter how hard he tries everyone only sees disgust. 

As Charlie’s health continued to rapidly decline, Liz (Hong Chau), Charlie’s best friend and nurse, continued to look past his appearance and find a light at the end of the tunnel. Out of all the characters I’d have to say Liz is the one I related to the most. Wanting the best for Charlie, Liz checked in everyday, helped him regain his strength and paved the way for Charlie to live a better life. It truly seemed like she was the only one who wanted to help him. Both Frazier portrayed such intense emotions that made such a well developed chemistry between their two characters. 

Practically every scene in the film showcases the struggle and pain experienced by Charlie, whether it be him attempting to walk, shower,  or even get off the couch. It was hard to watch; you just want to jump through the screen and help the guy out. One of the film’s plethora of themes surrounds the audience’s morbid fascination for this mountain of a man. Here he is, knocking over an end table as he struggles to get up from the couch; there he is, cramming candy bars in his mouth as he Googles “congestive heart failure.” We can laugh all we like between our mouthfuls of popcorn and Junior Mints while watching Fraser’s Charlie gobble greasy fried chicken straight from the bucket or inhale a giant meatball sub with such mediocrity that he nearly chokes to death. The message “The Whale” sends us home seems to be: Thank God that’s not us.

The final minutes of the film completely wrecked me, thanks to Brendan Fraser’s incredible performance and his instant chemistry with Sadie Sink. The utter emotion and caliber both the actors hold is unparalleled; it was intense to watch yet kept me intrigued until the final moment of the film when the screen faded into black. 

I have to say the film is nothing crazy. There’s no high budget cgi, cinematography, or action packed sequences; rather this film relies more on the emotional factor of its audience- and it works. The acting is impactful and the chemistry between the four characters is impeccable, not to mention the excellent hair and makeup departments use of prosthetics really brings the film together.