The Whale is not an easy watch. To be honest, director Darren Aronofsky (Noah) has delivered a movie that is going to affect people emotionally and hit them hard – the same way that his films like Black Swan and The Wrestler have done in the past. The difference here is that it feels Aronofsky’s characters come to life with a cast who all bring their A-Game to the table.
The film itself centres around morbidly obese literature lecturer Charlie (Brendan Fraser – The Mummy). George is so overweight that he is now a prisoner in his own apartment – his only companionship comes from his good friend, Liz (Hong Chau – The Menu), who also happens to be a trained nurse.
As Liz grows increasingly concerned about Charlie’s health, even warning him that his days may be limited, he begins to find other people coming into his life. First there is a door-to-door missionary, Thomas (Ty Simpkins – Jurassic World), who seems to want to befriend Charlie despite catching him in a compromising position, and then there is his daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink – Stranger Things), who has hated him since his divorce with her mother, Mary (Samantha Morton – Minority Report).
To give too much more about the plot of this film would be an absolute sin because what Aronofsky has done here is create a film that’s screenplay and plot unfolds as the film goes on. This isn’t a film where the director or screenwriter, Samuel D. Hunter (Baskets), sign-posts every twist or turn for the audience. No, just like life itself this film plays out with revelations that come at unexpected times bringing with them an array of emotions.
It is impossible to not watch this film and get emotional. In cinemas around the world it has been reported that people have been left in stunned silence as the credits roll and that is not surprising given that at times during the film’s happiness seamlessly melds into sadness and the screenplay has the power to make its audience view the world in a whole new light.
Also enhancing those emotions are the performances of the cast. It is hard not to look at Charlie and feel for him – despite the fact the character has done some pretty despicable things during his life Fraser plays him in such a way that he is likeable. Then there are the powerful moments where Charlie and Liz share moments that she believes may be their last or when Ellie faces off against a father that she hates so much that their relationship seems like it is unrepairable.
The key to this film working though are the secrets. As an audience you find yourself constantly wondering how did Charlie get to this point where has basically given up on life and then there are all the questions that seem to revolve around Thomas, especially after Ellie starts to dig into his life. The good thing is that all of those questions are answered throughout the film. Aronofsky might be a director that doesn’t like his audience to get too comfortable in the cinema, but he certainly isn’t a filmmaker who believes that the audience should be made to go away and ‘realise’ the ending for themselves.
The Whale is one of the most powerful films that you will see in 2023. There is no escaping the emotional roller-coaster that this film will take you on because this is one of those rare moments where everything comes together to make a film a masterpiece. The film has an intriguing script that has been put into the hands of one of the most talented directors in Hollywood at the moment. When you add all that to a cast where all of them have put in an Oscar-worthy performance, you are left with a film that may be gruelling to watch but really needs to be savoured.
The Whale opens in Phuket on Feb 16.
David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus
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