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Film Review: The Whale (2022)

Kelaru & Fulton rating: ★★★★★

Available on Prime Video | Runtime: 1hr 57mins


Darren Aronofsky swims into uncharted waters with his latest drama The Whale, centred around the captivating performance by Brendan Fraser as the obese and reclusive English teacher Charlie. And while the film tackles weighty subjects like obesity, depression and strained family relationships, it does so with empathy and warmth.

Photo credit: A24

Fraser is almost unrecognisable as Charlie, a 600-pound man confined to his cluttered apartment, whose health continues to deteriorate from compulsive eating after experiencing a devastating personal tragedy. But when his estranged teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) comes back into his life, he makes one last ditch effort to reconnect with her, all while his life is nearing its end.

The entire film rests on Fraser's shoulders, who delivers a career best performance. Buried under makeup and prosthetics, he projects a gentle giant both vulnerable and quick-witted, offset by Ellie's biting cynicism as a guard against further hurt. Their complicated father-daughter dynamic forms the emotional core as both try to make amends before it's too late.

While the story remains mostly within Charlie's apartment, Aronofsky finds creative ways to open up the visuals and staging to avoid a sense of claustrophobia. Clever cinematography, editing and sound design immerse us into Charlie's world and the film takes care to portray Charlie as a whole person, not just his obesity.

The Whale raises thoughtful questions about how society treats people of size, while advocating for more empathy. Obesity is a complex disease, and the film wants us to see the human behind it. While Charlie is near death, his hopeful bond with his daughter and faith in human goodness shine through.

Anchored by Fraser's moving, fully committed performance, The Whale delivers a thoughtful and unflinching yet uplifting take on grief, self-destruction and the possibility of redemption. Aronofsky once again directs with visual panache, coaxing out career best work from his actors. Full of heart and humanity, this film is heartbreaking and heart filling all the way to the very last second.

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