The Whale – Movie Review

The Whale movie poster

Brendan Fraser gives the performance of a lifetime in The Whale. Too bad the movie beaches itself. 

Fraser plays a morbidly obese man who is so fat he can barely move around his own home and refuses to go beyond its walls out of shame, a concern exacerbated by the fact that his heart is about to fail. Over the course of two hours, director Darren Aronofsky allow us to suffer right along with him as he struggles to stay alive for as long as he can, just so his awful daughter can yell at him and he can be repeatedly accosted by a Mormon missionary (who has a dark secret?).

Aronofsky is a talented and inventive filmmaker, but there’s something weirdly bland about The Whale, a movie set almost entirely inside a small apartment. It’s a movie about a giant man but the story not only feels small but grasping, as if the filmmaker, working from a screenplay by Samuel D. Hunter, was so captivated by obesity that he forgot to give his obese character something interesting to do other than die a slow, painful death.

My wife is a mental health therapist who specializes in eating disorders and body image issues (she opted not to watch this movie, though not out of protest), and so to some degree I tried to watch The Whale through her eyes. While I certainly can’t speak for her, I can imagine a better movie that opts to explore the past trauma that caused this man to give into food so completely; instead, The Whale seems to be about making amends as best he can before his heart explodes. The story isn’t unsympathetic to its lead, and yet it feels as if it’s told by someone who doesn’t really understand why people become so morbidly obese–or accepting that there are solutions other than death (and no, I’m not talking about surgery).

As is, The Whale isn’t a disaster as much as it is shockingly vanilla given Aronofsky’s resume. There just isn’t much here–aside from the performances, most notably Fraser. Fraser is really great in this, and convincing as a man in both physical and emotional anguish. I just wish the movie was as convincing.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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