Review: The Whale
Written by Kayleigh Beth Fraser on 6th February 2023
Brendan Fraser makes a triumphant return to the big screen in Darren Aronofksy’s latest release The Whale.
Set in mid 2010s Idaho, online English tutor Charlie (Brendan Fraser) realises his impending mortality and seeks to reconnect with his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink).
Blurred on his computer screen to his students, refusing to go to hospital and isolated in his apartment, Aronofsky’s claustrophobic depiction of Charlie’s (Fraser) life is both a revelation and a tragedy.
Comforted by what is revealed to be his daughter’s essay on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, one idea from the essay haunts the film, the idea of saving the reader “from his own sad story”.
It is this revelation Fraser’s character goes through that makes the film so beautifully tragic.
All along the audience know the protagonist will die, but we are encouraged, and willing to root for the character on his road to acceptance and reconnection with his daughter.
However, amidst Aronofsky’s intimate portrayal of Charlie, the film gets slightly lost.
Also seeking his own truth is misguided teenage missionary Thomas (Ty Simpkins), who delivers a convincing performance of a troubled conscience as he attempts to spread the word of god to Charlie.
As the audience finds out more about Thomas (Simpkins), Charlie’s (Fraser’s) character is sidelined – drugged with Ambien for the purposes of Thomas’ character development.
Whilst I can appreciate the similarities between the pair, Simpkin’s Thomas feels slightly like a nuisance.
I was much more interested in the relationship between Charlie and Ellie at this point in the film and the split plot line felt unnecessary.
Yet, could it not be said that Thomas’ character is doing what the recurring essay told us all along?
Saving us, stalling us, even, from Charlie’s own sad story?
Sadie Sink delivers a fantastic performance of Ellie, a girl tormented by the walking out of her father eight years previously, finds her voice and is treated as one final accomplishment before the presumed death of her father.
Urging his daughter (Sadie Sink) and students to write something “honest” as he binges on food in one fast paced montage, the film takes a darker tone as the audience is told the curtain will soon be closing on Brendan Fraser’s destructive character.
All in all, Fraser’s character is Melville’s foretold personified Whale.
Stuck inside his self-destructive body, we find beauty in Charlie as he faces facing the endless battle of reality but driven by Ellie’s (Sink) writing to know he has “done one good thing in his life”.
Aronofsky’s tale is a beautiful and emotional, at times wavering tale, and deserves a watch.