“The Whale” is an abhorrent movie, but it surely additionally options glorious performances.
It gawks on the grotesquerie of its central determine beneath the guise of sentimentality, but it surely additionally provides sharp exchanges between its characters that ring with bracing honesty.
It is the sort of movie it is best to in all probability see if solely to have an knowledgeable, considerate dialogue about it, but it surely’s additionally one you in all probability will not need to watch.
This aligns it with Darren Aronofsky’s motion pictures on the whole, which might usually be a difficult sit. The director is infamous for placing his actors (and his audiences) by the wringer, whether or not it is Jennifer Connolly’s drug addict in “Requiem for a Dream,” Mickey Rourke’s growing older athlete in “The Wrestler,” Natalie Portman’s obsessed ballerina in “Black Swan,” or Jennifer Lawrence’s besieged spouse in “mom!” (For the file, I am a fan of Aronofsky’s work on the whole.)
However the distinction between these movies and “The Whale” is their intent, whether or not it is the splendor of their artistry or the joys of their provocation. There is a verve to these motion pictures, an unpredictability, an simple daring, and a virtuoso model. They function pictures you have seemingly by no means seen earlier than or since, however they will undoubtedly stick with you afterward.
“The Whale” might initially really feel gentler, however its essential level appears to be sticking the digital camera in entrance of Brendan Fraser, encased in a fats go well with that makes him seem to weigh 600 kilos, and asking us to wallow in his deterioration. In principle, we are supposed to pity him or no less than discover sympathy for his bodily and psychological plight by the movie’s conclusion. However in actuality, the general vibe is certainly one of morbid fascination for this mountain of a person. Right here he’s, knocking over an finish desk as he struggles to rise up from the sofa; there he’s, cramming sweet bars in his mouth as he Googles “congestive heart failure.” We are able to tsk-tsk all we like between our mouthfuls of popcorn and Junior Mints whereas watching Fraser’s Charlie gobble greasy fried rooster straight from the bucket or inhale a large meatball sub with such alacrity that he practically chokes to dying. The message “The Whale” sends us residence with appears to be: Thank God that is not us.
In working from Samuel D. Hunter’s script, based mostly on Hunter’s stage play, Aronofsky would not seem like as eager about understanding these impulses and indulgences as a lot as pointing and observing them. His depiction of Charlie’s isolation inside his squalid Idaho residence features a scene of him masturbating to homosexual porn with such gusto that he nearly has a coronary heart assault, a second manufactured from equal elements shock worth and disgrace. However then, in a jarring shift, the tone finally turns maudlin with Charlie’s rising martyrdom.
Throughout the extremes of this method, Fraser brings extra heat and humanity to the position than he is afforded on the web page. We hear his voice first; Charlie is a school writing professor who teaches his college students on-line from behind the security of a black sq.. And it is such a welcoming and resonant sound, filled with decency and humor. Fraser’s been away for some time, however his contradictions have all the time made him an attractive display screen presence—the distinction of his imposing physique and playful spirit. He does a lot together with his eyes right here to provide us a glimpse into Charlie’s candy however tortured soul, and the subtlety he is in a position to convey goes a great distance towards making “The Whale” tolerable.
However he is additionally saddled with a screenplay that spells out each emotion in methods which are so clunky as to be groan-inducing. At Charlie’s most determined, panicky moments, he soothes himself by studying or reciting a pupil’s beloved essay on Moby Dick, which—partly—offers the movie its title and can tackle rising significance. He describes the elusive white whale of Herman Melville’s novel as he stands up, shirtless, and lumbers throughout the lounge, down the corridor, and towards the bed room with a walker. At this second, you are meant to marvel on the elaborate make-up and prosthetic work on show; you are extra more likely to roll your eyes on the writing.
“He thinks his life will probably be higher if he can simply kill this whale, however in actuality, it will not assist him in any respect,” he intones in a painfully apparent little bit of symbolism. “This guide made me take into consideration my very own life,” he provides as if we could not determine that out for ourselves.
A number of guests interrupt the loneliness of his days, mainly Hong Chau as his nurse and longtime buddy, Liz. She’s deeply caring but in addition no-nonsense, offering an important spark to those in any other case dour proceedings. Aronofsky’s longtime cinematographer, the good Matthew Libatique, has lit Charlie’s residence in such a relentlessly darkish and dim style to suggest his sorrow that it is oppressive. When you notice everything of the movie will happen inside these cramped confines, it sends a shiver of dread. And the selection to inform this story within the boxy, 1.33 facet ratio additional heightens its sense of dour claustrophobia.
However then “Stranger Issues” star Sadie Sink arrives as Charlie’s rebellious, estranged daughter, Ellie; her mother was married to Charlie earlier than he got here out as a homosexual man. Whereas their first assembly in a few years is laden with exposition concerning the ache and awkwardness of their time aside, the 2 finally settle into an fascinating, prickly rapport. Sink brings immediacy and accessibility to the position of the sullen however vibrant teenager, and her presence, like Chau’s, improves “The Whale” significantly. Her casting can also be spot-on in her resemblance to Fraser, particularly in her expressive eyes.
The arrival of yet one more customer—an earnest, insistent church missionary performed by Ty Simpkins—seems like a complete contrivance, nevertheless. Permitting him contained in the residence repeatedly makes zero sense, even inside the context that Charlie believes he is dying and desires to make amends. He even says to this candy younger man: “I am not eager about being saved.” And but, the exchanges between Sink and Simpkins present some much-needed life and emotional fact. The subplot about their unlikely friendship seems like one thing from a very completely different film and a way more fascinating one.
As an alternative, Aronofsky insists on veering between cruelty and melodrama, with Fraser caught within the center, a curiosity on show.