'The Whale’, and What We Can Learn About Ourselves | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

As I sat in the darkened theater, I couldn’t help but feel a kinship with Charlie, a man struggling with addiction and his weight, and view him in a way that’s my own, as someone who struggles with body image and self-acceptance. While his experiences are not my experiences, there is a shared human connection to and in which we view each other and then ourselves. 

Director Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, The Whale, is a complex and emotionally charged exploration of body image, self-acceptance, and the power of human connection. Starring Brendan Fraser (for which he is a first-time Best Actor nominee for the upcoming 2023 Academy Awards) as a 600-pound recluse named Charlie, the movie invites viewers on a deeply personal journey of transformation and redemption, as Charlie seeks to reconcile his past mistakes.

At its core, The Whale is a character study, with Fraser delivering a tour-de-force performance as Charlie that is equal parts heart-wrenching and triumphant. Through his nuanced portrayal of Charlie’s struggles and triumphs, Fraser shines a light on the often-overlooked experiences of overweight individuals, and challenges viewers to question their own preconceptions and biases. Essentially, it is a haunting and visceral exploration of one man’s struggle with isolation, addiction, and self-loathing. 

As Charlie’s health begins to deteriorate and his relationships with the outside world become more strained, he must confront the demons plaguing him for years. Aronofsky’s direction is masterful, weaving together various strands of Charlie’s story into a compelling and emotionally resonant narrative, and capturing the bleakness of his existence in stunning visual and auditory detail. The cinematography is strong, with breathtaking shots of the cold wilderness and his cramped house providing a fitting backdrop for Charlie’s personal journey.

The film handles heavy topics such as body image, self-acceptance, and human connection | A24

One potential weakness of The Whale is the way in which it handles the issue of weight stigma. While the film is ultimately a celebration of body diversity and self-acceptance, some viewers may find the portrayal of Charlie’s weight and health issues to be overly sensationalized, and the focus on his physical appearance may reinforce negative stereotypes and assumptions about overweight individuals.

Aronofsky may be well-intentioned but his perception can be perceived as an ultimately problematic exploration of body image and self-acceptance. The portrayal of Charlie’s weight and health issues is often sensationalized and lacking in nuance, which may reinforce negative stereotypes and perpetuate harmful attitudes toward overweight individuals. Additionally, the film’s attempt to promote body diversity and self-acceptance is hampered by its reliance on Charlie’s physical appearance as a central plot point, which may alienate viewers who do not fit into traditional beauty standards. It falls short in handling weight stigma and other issues related to overweight individuals, and that’s what makes it dangerous: because the film is that powerful.

What really stood out to me was the film’s exploration of the complexities of human relationships: From Charlie’s strained relationship with his daughter Ellie (played by Sadie Sink) to his friendship with his nurse, Liz (played by Hong Chau), The Whale reminded me that life, flaws and all, is not and will never be a Disney movie; As much as want to wear those rose-colored glasses every single day, the time we remove them at the end, serves as a reminder that life is strange, and relationships are even stranger, and that makes it worth it.

The supporting cast is heralded by great performances | A24

And while there were moments of heartbreak and sadness (as there always are in the world of indie films), The Whale managed to find moments of hope and levity that kept me hooked from start to finish. In the end, The Whale is a film that leaves a lasting impression – not just because of its powerful performances and beautiful cinematography, but because of its exploration of the human condition. It’s a reminder that life is messy, love is messy, and sometimes, even the smallest things can leave the greatest impact.

As the film reaches its final scene, the screen, instead of turning itself to black, floods us with light – and I like to believe this offers us the very message of what the film is conveying: hope. 

It’s not so dark, after all.


Images courtesy of A24

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