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The Whale (15)

Cast: Hong Chau, Samantha Morton, Ty Simpkins, Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink
Genre: Drama
Author(s): Samuel D Hunter
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Release Date: 03/02/2023
Running Time: 117mins
Country: US
Year: 2022

Nineteen-year-old door-to-door Christian missionary Thomas unwittingly blunders into a medical emergency in a nondescript two-bedroom apartment in northern Idaho. Gay college lecturer Charlie, who weighs about 600 pounds (42-plus stone), is in the throes of cardiac arrest. Charlie refuses an ambulance - he doesn't have medical insurance - and summons best friend and nurse Liz instead.


LondonNet Film Review

The Whale (15) Film Review from LondonNet

In Herman Melville’s 19th-century sea-faring adventure Moby-Dick; Or, The Whale, which features heavily in Darren Aronofsky’s claustrophobic character study adapted by Samuel D Hunter from his 2012 off-Broadway stage play, the narrator – a sailor called Ishmael – loses patience with the rambling of a shabbily dressed stranger. “Look here, friend, if you have anything important to tell us, out with it,” Ishmael implores sternly. Alas, Hunter and his principal character – a morbidly obese creative writing professor resigned to death from congestive heart failure – ignore the plea and prolong the self-inflicted misery for almost two hours…

Aronofsky’s bloated film would be hard to stomach without effervescent performances from an ensemble cast led by a revelatory, career-best turn from Brendan Fraser as the wheezing educator. Complemented by Oscar-nominated prosthetics and special make-up, Fraser’s portrayal of grief-fuelled self-destruction and loathing would have both hands firmly on the Academy Award in a subtler and nimbler translation from stage to screen. With a tear-filled glance, the rejuvenated actor skilfully guides us through inner turmoil and despair towards the soothing light of forgiveness. Aronofsky’s bold decision to remain almost entirely within the lead character’s home, and to seldom stray outside for fresh air, intensifies feelings of stagnation and suffocation but also underlines the film’s theatrical origins.

Nineteen-year-old door-to-door Christian missionary Thomas (Ty Simpkins) unwittingly blunders into a medical emergency in a nondescript two-bedroom apartment in northern Idaho. Gay college lecturer Charlie (Fraser), who weighs about 600 pounds (42-plus stone), is in the throes of cardiac arrest. Charlie refuses an ambulance – he doesn’t have medical insurance – and summons best friend and nurse Liz (Hong Chau) instead. “Being in debt is better than being dead,” she angrily quips, recording his dangerously high blood pressure.

Over the course of a week, Thomas witnesses Charlie awkwardly rebuilding burnt bridges to his estranged teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) and verbally sparring with Liz, who vociferously disapproves of his tactics. “You haven’t seen her since she was eight years old and you want to reconnect with her by doing her homework?” despairs the nurse. As Charlie’s condition worsens, Ellie exploits the situation and her acid-tongued mother (Samantha Morton) pays an unexpected visit to the man who wrecked their marriage by having an affair with a male student.

The Whale takes a sledgehammer approach to delivering emotional blows, exemplified by stomach-churning scenes of Fraser gorging on pizza, candy bars and buckets of fried chicken to hasten Charlie’s choking demise. His mesmerising, layered performance is matched by Chau, who was lip-smackingly delicious in The Menu last year and shows the same steely edge here with glimmers of heartrending vulnerability. “I was always big but I just let it get out of control,” Charlie tells daughter Ellie during one heated exchange. The same fate befalls Aronofsky’s picture.

– Kim Hu


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