Review The Whale: the incredible rebirth of Brendan Fraser

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Presented at the 79th edition of the Venice Film Festival, The Whale marks the incredible rebirth of Brendan Fraser with an elegant and sensitive film: here is our review

ORIGINAL TITLE: The Whale. TYPE: Drama. NATION: United States of America. REGIA: Darren Aronofsky. CAST: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Samantha Morton, Ty Simpkins, Hong Chau, Huck Milner, Sathya Sridharan. DURATA: 117 minuti. DISTRIBUTOR: I Wonder Pictures, Unipol Biografilm Collection. PRODUCER: A24, Protozoa Pictures. OUT TO THE CINEMA: 23/02/2023.

In this review we will tell you ours about The Whale, a film that has made a lot of talk about itself mostly due to the return to the big screen by Brendan Fraser, directed by Darren Aronofsky. In fact, we had the opportunity to see it as a preview of the release in cinemas scheduled for February 23rd thanks to I Wonder Pictures and the Unipol Biografilm Collection. And we can only associate ourselves with the large audience that praised the professional rebirth of Brendan Fraser, capable with an Oscar-winning performance (we’ll see the results, in the meantime the nomination is certain) to bring us closer to the inner drama of a frightened and lonely character.

The plot and the trailer | The Whale review

The Whale, directed by Darren Aronofsky, tells the story of Charlie (Brendan Fraser), an English literature professor who suffers from very serious obesity and lives as a recluse at home. The man teaches college writing courses online, always keeping his webcam off. Charlie has lost all ties to the outside world, including his ties to his teenage daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink), whom he hasn’t seen for years. The only person Charlie sees is Liz (Hong Chau), the nurse who helps him with medications and treatments. After a diagnosis that Charlie has little time left to live, the man decides to reconnect with his daughter, in a desperate attempt to redeem a life that he realized he had lost. Thomas also enters the picture (Ty Simpkins), a young member of the New Life Church who attempts to evangelize him. The presence of new people – and especially Ellie – in Charlie’s life will lead the man to dig into his own memories and traumas that have brought him up to that point.

The Whale is a deep but insidious film, talking about guilt, regret, loneliness and abandonment. All themes dear to Darren Aronofsky’s cinema, who throughout his career has tried to pursue them, to always explore them on the edge between real reflection and obsession. In doing so he often goes to the extreme, often resulting in the pornography of misery. At the same time, it is equally true that the director, in pursuing his stories to the limit, often falls in love with his characters and the performers who bring them to the stage, often finding unexpected balances. This was the case with The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke, which in 2008 earned him the Golden Lion in Venice and two Golden Globes, and which has many parallels in common with The Whale, also presented in Venice this year. Also at the center of Aronofsky’s new film is an actor, Brendan Fraser, who returns as the protagonist after a complex period in his life and his career, and a character whose body becomes the center of discourse, a metaphor for existence and place of confrontation.

Bridging the Pain of Loss | The Whale review

The Whale, shot entirely during the pandemic, therefore summarizes Aronofsky’s cinema very well. The film is a culmination of a reflection on suffering and its manifestations. The screenplay, written with Samuel D. Hunter, author of the homonymous play on which the film is based, was just waiting for a protagonist and the ideal conditions to make it happen. This wandering, postponing and searching allowed the film to come to fruition in a natural way and to find an unexpected balance: just the premise of an actor afflicted for many years by physical problems and descended into the professional abyss could have attracted attention by making expiring the film in pietism and petty rhetoric. The Whale on the other hand, while staining itself with some simplifications (which probably blocked its race for the title of best film at the Academy), never drops below that level of attention that would make it a caricature. At the end of the screening it is so normal to remain paralyzed for a few moments, partly in an attempt to better understand the content of the film, partly in the form of a respectful farewell to a story that is incredibly sincere and humanly close.

Review The Whale: the incredible rebirth of Brendan Fraser

Charlie is a man who feeds on memories, fueling melancholy by swallowing food. The lack of a partner, an abandoned daughter and the glimmers of a life that is irrecoverable are voids that must be filled. Pizza, sandwiches, sweets, every food is a brick with which to build one’s bodily fortress, a fort that crushes the soul, where the ephemeral satisfaction of a moment of happiness just savored soon gives way to the bitterness of solitude. Charlie often wonders if he’s horrifying in the eyes of others, yet that’s not the main reaction that seeing his subhuman body elicits.: the protagonist is a real man, almost tangible, who at the same time causes anger and tenderness, but in which we can ultimately reflect ourselves. Much of the credit naturally goes to Brendan Fraser who never seems limited, or hidden, by the prosthetic shell of a physique imprisoned by layers of fat, but rather proves capable of terrifying and striking his spectator by focusing on the strength of his gaze . His eyes become portals of emotions and unspoken feelings capable of making their way despite the layers of fat. Because in The Whale only the body is blocked; the soul now flies, gets up lightly, waiting to free itself forever.

Claustrophobic poem | The Whale Review

In any case, the metaphor of the whale, an elegant, majestic animal, but also synonymous with fear, inflicted and suffered. Established in the collective imagination as a metaphor for inner terror, a target to be destroyed and a symbol of distance, as idealized in the book Moby Dick, it represents the common thread of projection. That sense of frustration and sweet incomprehension that cloaks the image of the white whale, victim and executioner at the same time, is shown in the hardships of an uncooperative body and four walls. Like its protagonist, the viewer also enters Charlie’s house, to stay there for a week. It’s raining outside, a continuous storm is ragingwhose dull gray appearance is repeated and continued in the rooms of an ambiguous house: on the one hand the rooms kept as altars lived before the tragedy that led to the unfortunate outcome, on the other the dark ones experienced by the protagonist now recluse.

There is a sense of claustrophobia surrounding Charlie, a sense of heavy, slow, tired breathing that shows itself in a suffocating 4:3. The fluid direction, which observes, but never exaggerates, the faces of its characters, scrutinizing and revealing a hidden and repressed interiority is a plus point for this undoubtedly excellent film.

Review The Whale: the incredible rebirth of Brendan Fraser


The strength of The Whale, as we have tried to explain in this review, is given by its protagonists, few but good. The intimate story touches the soul of the viewer, who can find a way to give meaning to his life as even a man forced to immobility. The skilful use of the camera and the solid screenplay they have saving power. Aware of being the author of the novel of his own defeat, Charlie also intends to promote his own redemption, in a last leap towards a fragment of life, to swallow, in one bite, the last slice of happiness.

Claustrophobic and exciting

Plus points

  • It never leads to pietism
  • It maintains an intimate but not restricted dimension

Points against

  • Basically the story remains two-dimensional
  • Some stylistic choices are simplified

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