fbpx

Film Review #23: THE WHALE

Written by Ivan Chin

Brendan Fraser’s return to the big screen sees him playing an obese teacher, Charlie, who strives to make amends with his estranged daughter. The Whale is laden with a myriad of emotions in broken characters seeking fulfilment. Departing from his usual allegorical narratives with bleak views of humanity, Darren Aronofsky focuses instead on drawing out the intensity in each performance.

The Whale, which is adapted from Samuel D. Hunter’s play of the same name, follows the convention of the stage. The passage of time is dictated by the events that happen within the apartment where Charlie lives and works from. Much, if not nearly all of the film is confined to it. Scenes begin with the entrance of a character and end with their departure. Instead of the typical ‘exit stage left’ cue, there is a single door through which they pass. It’s also this innocuous-looking door that proves to be a hurdle for Charlie, a threshold that he finds himself unable to pass.

Aronofsky’s fascination with stories driven by broken characters might be why he chose to adapt this in the first place. Every film of course has its staple of flawed characters, and on the surface, The Whale seems no different in this regard. Each character in this film is unique with all their vices and imperfections. Charlie himself refuses to get professional help for his deteriorating condition, while the young missionary Thomas proselytizes to Charlie, yet is wrestling with his inner demons. Even Liz, his friend and helper played by Hong Chau, gets mired in a moral dilemma after the arrival of Thomas and Charlie’s daughter complicates things.

Fraser might take front and centre, but Aronofsky gives attention and detail to the other characters, allowing ample screentime to draw out their nuances and backstory which enrich the narrative. There’s a sort of ballad in which the other arcs revolve around Charlie’s, with each actor playing off Fraser. Aronofsky draws out the beauty in each character in their vulnerability, as they bare their fears and insecurities. Though they are intrinsically unlikeable characters, Aronofsky gives reason to root for and sympathise with them. Each interaction is deliberate and dives deeper into their psyche, bridging the emotional gap with moments of epiphany.

Plenty of others have praised Fraser’s comeback performance in The Whale as his magnum opus, and deservedly so. Personally though, the force majeure is found in Charlie’s daughter Ellie, played by Sadie Sink. Her appearance proves to be the greatest disruption to Charlie’s life, a jarring presence who, unlike Liz or Thomas, is begrudged by resentment at her father for leaving her. Her blatant hatred of Charlie is ironically what spurs him out of his complacency, going as far as to revitalise his purpose in life. It is also her, with her twisted sense of wit, who manages to pierce through the iron-clad defence that Charlie has put around himself. Sadie morphs into the little terror whose brilliance is tremendously understated.

The Whale remains true to Aronofsky’s perceptive examination of the extremes of human nature. It’s refreshing to see him take a more grounded approach, guided more by the performances than heavier-handed themes. The humanistic qualities imbued in this film resonate deeply and promise to either make or break you.

——————————————————————————-

This review is published as an extension of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab, organised by The Filmic Eye with support from the Singapore Film Society.

About the Author: Ivan Chin has a penchant for Hong Kong cinema and science-fiction films, but enjoys anything from blockbusters to the avant-garde. His favourite directors include Johnnie To, Denis Villeneuve and Stanley Kubrick. He also fervently hopes to see local films blossom. In his free time, he can usually be found wandering around cinemas.

——————————————————————————-

About the Movie:
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins

Year: 2022
Duration: 1h 57min
Language: English

Synopsis: A reclusive English teacher attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter.

The Whale is screening in all Singapore cinemas with a M18 Rating.

Similar Articles

Film Journals #1 – My Problem With Long Takes

Read More

Film Journals #2 – When Bad Is Better

Read More

Let’s Get Physical (with safe-distancing measures)

Read More

Film Journals #3 – Hollywood Makes Propaganda

Read More

Film Journals #5 – YouTube: The New French New Wave

Read More

Film Journals #4 – How Shane Dawson Manipulated His Audience? Tiger King, 13 Reasons Why

Read More

Bright, bittersweet love in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and La La Land (2016)

Read More

The Lucid Dreamer

Read More

Queer Films Raise more Questions Than They Answer?

Read More

SFS Showcase #1: Children In Society

Read More

Female Rage meets “The Nice Guy”

Read More

An Ode to a Master – #SatyajitRayAt100 (Born 2 May 1921)

Read More

SFS Showcase #2: Politics & Humanity

Read More

Not the Streaming Default: The Disney+ Difficulty

Read More

Singapore in NDP MVs Through The Years, A Panel Summary

Read More

A Programmer’s Love for Film

Read More

Film Review #26: RING WANDERING

Read More

Film Review #24: INFERNAL AFFAIRS

Read More

Film Review #15: HELLRAISER

Read More

Emulsions Between Women and the Sea

Read More

MASTERCLASS SERIES with Mabel Cheung 張婉婷

Read More

Video: Mabel Cheung’s Masterclass | Asian Film Awards Academy

Read More

On the Other Side of the Screen: To Stream or Not To Stream

Read More

Film Review #1: FIRE OF LOVE (2022)

Read More

Film Review #2: PLAN 75 (2022)

Read More

Film Review #3: THE LION CITY (1960)

Read More

Film Review #4: BULLET TRAIN (2022)

Read More

Film Review #5: THIS MUCH I KNOW TO BE TRUE

Read More

Film Review #6: DECISION TO LEAVE

Read More

Film Review #7: NOPE

Read More

Film Review #8: DON’T WORRY DARLING

Read More

Film Review #9: NIGHT OF THE KINGS

Read More

Film Review #10: AKIRA

Read More

Film Review #11: THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING

Read More

Film Review #12: AJOOMMA

Read More

Film Review #13: SEE HOW THEY RUN

Read More

Film Review #14: PREY

Read More

Film Review #16: BLACK ADAM

Read More

Film Review #17: MOONAGE DAYDREAM

Read More

Film Review #18: EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE

Read More

Film Review #19: 20TH CENTURY GIRL

Read More

Film Review #20: 24

Read More

Film Review #21: TRIANGLE OF SADNESS

Read More

Film Review #25: TROLL

Read More

Film Review #22: WRITING WITH FIRE

Read More

Film Review #27: BURNING DAYS

Read More

Film Review #28: CHILDREN OF THE MIST

Read More

Film Review #29: A LAND IMAGINED

Read More