‘The Whale’ is an emotional masterpiece
By Owen Glancy
Darren Aronofsky is one of the most prolific and unique directors in film history, and his newest film “The Whale” is another example of his obvious talents.
Of all of Aronofky’s films, this is absolutely his smallest in terms of scale. The vast majority of the film takes place in one apartment, and only features eight actors.
The apartment only has a few rooms, but by keeping certain rooms secret, it gives the film a degree of suspense. This also leads to plenty of excellent emotional payoffs, with the reveal of these rooms cluing the audience into the main character’s past.
Despite the minimalist approach, Aronofsky gets the most from what he has. It also helps that the minimal set and small cast allowed Aronofsky and the crew to create the award-winning design of the main character, Charlie.
Charlie, played by Brendan Fraser, is introduced as both a visually and mentally disgusting character. The digitally enhanced fat suit looked mind-blowingly realistic. The groundbreaking special effects looked so realistic, everyone in the theater was stunned.
Aside from the effects, Fraser’s Oscar-winning performance was absolutely masterful. He makes Charlie feel so human. The character is full of flaws, and he is clearly a man who has made many mistakes in his life. Now that Charlie has reached his final week of life, he wants to find some sort of solace, something of value he contributed to the world before he leaves it behind forever.
Charlie attempts to reach solace by reconnecting with his estranged daughter, Ellie. Sadie Sink does an excellent job as Ellie, further proving her obvious acting talents after her breakout performance in “Stranger Things.”
While not personally applicable to me, there were people in the audience who were moved to tears by the relationship between Charlie and Ellie. The two have great chemistry, and it’s obvious that Fraser and Sink are both at the top of their game.
The relationship between Charlie and Ellie is easily the strongest part of the film, but Hong Chau comes as a close second. Her character, Liz, serves as a bridge between two portions of Charlie’s life. Liz is the sister of Charlie’s deceased boyfriend, who he left his wife and daughter for.
Chau’s performance makes you feel both sympathetic for and disgusted by Liz. Her constant changing between trying to help Charlie to instigating his self-destructive behavior is incredibly intriguing to watch.
Not every character and performance in this film is great. Ty Simpkins plays Thomas, a young runaway boy with a religious background who attempts to help Charlie via prayer. A portion of Charlie’s trauma is a direct result of Thomas’ religious group, which puts him at odds with both Liz and Ellie.
While his character has led to great scenes for Chau and Sink’s characters, Simpkins’ acting is simply not up to snuff with his peers. He doesn’t do poorly, but he definitely sticks out in a film full of Oscar-nominated performances. His character also feels strangely forced into the story. It doesn’t quite fit in such a tight-knit script.
One scene in particular that really demonstrates this film’s strengths is the emotional confrontation between Charlie and his ex-wife Mary (played by Samantha Morton) regarding Ellie. In this scene, Mary confesses that she has given up hope in trying to parent Ellie. She can only see her daughter as a failure. Meanwhile, Charlie needs to know that Ellie will be OK, especially after leaving her a large sum of money. As Mary is leaving the house, Charlie screams at her, “I need to know that I have done one thing right with my life!”
Fraser’s powerful delivery of this line combined with the swelling music and Mary’s apathetic response makes for such a heart-rending scene to watch. It really proves how excellent the writing, directing, score, and performances in this film actually are.
The ending of the film is obvious from the very beginning. We know that Charlie had only a week left of life from the film’s very first scene. Despite this, his death is handled so well and so beautifully, that it left me speechless.
“The Whale” is a truly emotional tour de force of a film. The minimal sets, cast, and script are all masterfully combined by a legendary director into a phenomenal movie that must be seen to be believed.
An incredibly human experience