Confronting the past and all the mistakes that come with making decisions along the way is what Charlie is faced with in Darren Aronofsky's The Whale. Dealing with grief, loss, and empathy for others are the key ingredients that make The Whale swim beautifully. With a claustrophobic setting, some amazing camerawork, and the best performance of the year from the legendary Brendan Fraser, The Whale is one of the sweetest and most emotional movies of the year. Highest Recommendation!
Aronofsky sure has a way of drawing an intimate portrait of a tragic character who everyone grows to love, whether it be a mother living through a chaotic weekend, a curious ballerina dancer, friends with addiction, or even an aging pro wrestler. The way Aronofsky utilizes his camera in following these personalities around while giving them some poignant dialogue is unmatched and provides an escape into hellscapes and paradises through the eyes of each of his characters in their own heightened world. With The Whale, Fraser plays a man named Charlie, a lonely English professor for an online university who weighs in at almost 600 pounds. Charlie is not the picture of health and is nearing death from his bad habits and obesity by the second, but that doesn't stop him from wanting the best out of people, including his students, or his friend/nurse Liz (Hong Chau from The Menu), who comes to check on him.
By setting the movie all in one location inside Charlie's small apartment in Idaho and shooting the film in full frame, Aronofsky, and frequent Aronfosky collaborator cinematographer Matthew Libatique hone in on the size of Charlie and how trapped inside his own psyche and physical setting he is. It could be an inside joke to not film the movie in widescreen, but there's more to this unusual but much-welcomed aspect ratio, as Charlie is trying to break through those black bars to get through to the one person who means the most to him - his daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink). And it's not that Charlie has a difficult time connecting with anyone. On the contrary, strangers who enter his life such as a young missionary (Ty Simpkins), a pizza delivery guy, and even his ex-wife find something to love about Charlie, despite his situation.
When Charlie and Ellie start spending time together for the first time in years, it's displayed that there is still a ton of animosity between Ellie towards her father. Through Samuel D. Hunter's script based on his 2013 stage play, little nuggets of truth about Charlie's grief and decisions over the past several years come to light. Through the course of the film, the story highlights his intense struggle with his health and make-up for past demons. It's not all sunshine and roses with beautiful swells of music and large embraces, but rather vomiting from binge eating, severe heart palpitations, and tears of extreme sadness. But there are also flashes of great humanity and love between a daughter and a father that can never be unbroken, no matter how painful the outcome will be, which is where the book Moby Dick has some great tie-ins about pain, sadness, and the beauty of something unexpected.
Every actor here turns in an amazing performance. Chau is wonderfully blunt and sweet at the same time and is grieving in her own way. Sink continues to impress with her range of emotions from anger to empathy in her dry, mean wit conversing with her dad. She's simply amazing. But it's Fraser's performance that is on another level completely. Brendan Fraser is not seen here. It's the full character of Charlie that's on-screen at all times. Fraser's physical performance and nuanced movements of somebody in this dire situation are unbelievably tremendous and his delivery of every line is spot on with the right amount of positivity and loss. It's a marvel to watch. The Whale is one of the best films of the year and will enhance every emotion in the human body. Highest Recommendation!