Without looking it up, for what movie did Jeff Bridges win his Academy Award? What about Al Pacino? Did you guess Crazy Heart and Scent of a Woman? Can you remember anything about those films’ plots – I mean anything beyond “depressed country singer” and “suicidal blind guy?”
Sadly, I fear The Whale will slip into similar semi-obscurity, as Brendan Fraser will almost surely win the Academy Award and five years from now, movie-goers will have largely forgotten about the film’s plot.
Director Darren Aronofsky helms this story of Charlie (Fraser) who has morbid obesity, and once he believes he will soon die, Charlie tries to reconcile with his estranged daughter. There is an impending sense of doom throughout The Whale, a sense that is created by the great performances in this film and by the subtle and incredible direction by Aronofsky.
Some critics have noted that elements of The Whale are fatphobic, but I found the film sympathetic and sensitive to Charlie’s weight. There are several scenes devoted to showing how Charlie’s daily activities are herculean chores; dropping a key on the floor is a tragedy, and it might as well be lost forever. These scenes build compassion for Charlie, and while some may argue that they veer into evoking pity, I found The Whale similar to Aronofsky’s The Wrestler because it’s about characters’ complex relationships to their own bodies.
The core of The Whale is about Charlie’s relationship with his daughter played by Critic Choice Awards nominee for Best Young Actor, Sadie Sink. Before he dies, Charlie must believe that people are good, but Sink’s character Ellie’s behavior is borderline sociopathic at times. This makes for compelling drama, even though Ellie’s antics wear thin.
The script is not perfect. Samuel D. Hunter based the screenplay on his play, which is obvious from the few and sparse sets, and the film feels like a filmed play rather than something made for the big screen. Also, Charlie’s backstory is too meticulously filled in. Every question the audience might ask after the first arresting scene of The Whale is eventually answered, and perhaps a bit more mystery would be more effective.
Brendan Fraser won Best Actor at the Critics Choice Awards, and he is almost destined for Oscar gold. Here’s hoping that audience will remember anything about the movie that won him the award.