Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Whale’ tears audiences’ hearts in two, provides enriching story experience

Ryan Ranc, Senior Life&Arts Film Columnist

TW: While this review itself doesn’t tackle difficult themes, the movie itself discusses substance abuse, obesity, depression, suicide, and abuse.

“The Whale,” directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by Samuel D. Hunter, follows English teacher Charlie (Brendan Fraser) through the last week of his life. Based on Hunter’s play of the same name, “The Whale” chronicles Charlie, a recluse who struggles with obesity and long-standing depression after the tragic loss of a loved one while he attempts to leave a positive impact on his family and friends during his last week.

Aronofsky’s style feels as present as ever in “The Whale.” The film’s incredibly low-budget constrained Aronofsky and forced him to hone his craft to form a quick yet precise story experience. This condensed and simplified form of directorial storytelling helps “The Whale” stand out compared to his previous endeavors. His stripped-down style can be found in details as simple as the couch’s placement in the center of the apartment to bigger directorial choices, such as the purposeful confinement of never taking the story out of Charlie’s home. Each and every action taken by Aronofsky feels like a purposeful and an efficient way to move the story forward. 

One of the shining elements of Hunter’s writing stands out in the realistic, multifaceted characters. While each character showcases a kind and caring nature among difficult circumstances, each character also possesses the ability to be cold and selfish, neglecting everybody in their life. Every character in “The Whale” feels as if they fall into a morally gray area, resulting in a dynamic, complex ensemble that brings humanity to the story. Hunter’s attention to detail in developing his characters and their world breathes life into this drama.

Each and every performance in “The Whale” feels real and heartbreaking. Brendan Fraser executes a standout performance as Charlie. Fraser plays the main character as a broken man who still loves his family despite their turmoil. Taking that personality trait further, Fraser plays up Charlie’s stubborn nature, constantly rejecting help to avoid being seen as an inconvenience. 

Other notable performances come from Sadie Sink as Charlie’s daughter and Hong Chau as Charlie’s caretaker and best friend, Liz. Sink plays a disrespectful and rude child who slowly warms up to her father by the end of the film. The arc she portrays will leave audiences feeling simultaneously emotional and frustrated with the character’s teen angst. Chau’s performance serves as a great parallel to Fraser’s performance, serving as another character calling themself a “lost cause.”

“The Whale” is a rare movie. The film tackles heavy themes, yet avoids using them as convenient plot beats. Instead, emotional themes serve as a vehicle to dive into the main theme of having faith in others and granting others sympathy and grace despite their faults.

4 apartment couches out of 5