Nerdlocker Movie Review: The Whale


“Isolation is the sum total of wretchedness to a man.” – Thomas Carlyle

I have found that as I’ve grown older I am becoming more susceptible to crying. It’s not a mystery as to why as with life experience comes empathy. The younger a person is the less they’ve likely gone through. The first real death in my family didn’t happen until I was thirty years old when my grandmother passed. Since then I’ve lost my dad and favorite uncle. I see the age of my mother more than ever as she herself watches her own father at eighty-four try to navigate his new life with his wife no longer by his side. More than ever I see the finite nature of existence and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t at least a little bit scary.

Through these experiences, however devastating, they still provide substance creating a more nuanced life. I figure if it’s inevitable I might as well take something away that will be of service to my need of continuing on despite it all. If you know me you know my love of cinema. My life experiences will undoubtedly influence how I view the movies I’ve yet to see and the ones I’ve loved for most of my life and everything in between. I firmly believe Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale would not have impacted me the way it has if not for the experiences I lived through watching my father deteriorate in the final years of his life.

Let me start by saying this is definitely the beginning of Brendan Fraser’s resurgence. He is absolutely brilliant as Charlie, a gay obese man in self-imposed isolation. His apartment is his world and the only two things Charlie partakes in is teaching online writing courses to maintain an income and bouts of excessive eating. If a person can’t help but inject themselves with heroin as a drug addict, Charlie is no different. His choice of drug is whole pizzas, multiple meatball subs and gallons of soda. He is an addict in every sense of the word, his drug just so happens to be legal and readily available. As did my father, and if I’m honest so do I, Charlie eats his anxiety and depression but as anyone who does this knows, it never works for long. And so the cycle continues.

It is a mental illness that manifests itself through the act of eating. Charlie sees and certainly feels the effects of his decisions and knows his time is extremely limited. In fact, his caregiver and close friend Liz bluntly states he’ll likely be dead before the end of the week. His blood pressure indicates congestive heart failure and repeated sharp pain in his chest and arm show that his body is failing fast and mercilessly.

As time ticks down his final days he knows the greatest regret of his life, the abandonment of his only daughter when she was eight, will not fix itself. As she begrudgingly reintegrates herself into his life at sixteen years old, he sees the anger embedded within her knowing full well it’s his absence that put it there. He attempts to get to know her as he promises aid with her grades in exchange for time with her and an eventual large payout when he dies. She hates him but can’t cut ties and becomes more angry with every visit to his sad, colorless apartment. She hates what he did and what he has become. Charlie lost the love of his life to suicide and with the small bit of energy he possesses he intends to repair the damage he caused his only child. As with all things in life, it’s easier said than done. As sad as this tale is, it is still a story of redemption.

The premise is simple. The journey is anything but. Charlie is a representation of so many lost souls. My dad was one of them. Fraser shines in his sadness, ironic I know. He is heartbreaking and in his sorrow is magnificence. He is truly a sight to behold if only for a single viewing. I say this because as spectacular as he is and as engaging as Sadie Sink is and as breathtaking as Hong Chau is, the level of dramatic heart wrenching content is at times nearly unbearable. At least for me the incessant reminders of what my father’s day to day was like and how my mother and I had front row seats to his demise.

While my father was as big as Charlie is, it’s more about the details that come along with being as big as he was that make The Whale devastating for me. It was things like watching Charlie needing a grabbing tool to reach things he dropped or a wheelchair to get around his own home. The amount of food Charlie ingests, eating enough for three or four people at a time is something my father did regularly. The excessive sweating from doing almost nothing to the near inability of simply standing up. I watched Charlie on screen go through it as I relived it all over again with my dad. I watched him die as I saw my mother stand by, helpless and losing her identity as a wife, a mother and a human being. The Whale brought all of this back, in vibrant, brutal realism. I both appreciate this movie and can’t imagine ever going through it again. The greatest and most relentless detail is the look of hopelessness on Charlie’s face. His eyes big, tear-filled and listless. I saw my dad more than ever in those small moments and I couldn’t help but weep.

The Whale is a prime example of cinema’s power and influence. It has the ability to move us, to make us laugh and make us cry. I’m grateful for The Whale, I got to see my dad again, even if it was in his last state of horrid health, I got him back for two hours. That was enough.

I know I don’t need to say it at this point but The Whale is heavy. The subject matter is depressing and never relents. Charlie is a defeated human with mere moments to change the mistakes of his shattered past. Fraser and his co-stars are exceptional and bring to life a brief moment in the final days of a sad man’s brittle existence. I was moved by this film but it is not for the faint of heart. If anything it let me know my experiences weren’t exactly unique and as sad as that may be, I know at the very least I’m not alone. I think that’s all anyone can really hope for.

Craig Alan Gifford

Rated R For: language, some drug use and sexual content
Runtime: 117 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Drama
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins
Directed By: Darren Aronofsky

Out of 10 Nerdskulls
Story: 10/ Acting: 10/ Directing: 9.5/ Visuals: 8
OVERALL: 9 Nerdskulls

Buy to Own: Yes

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Chase Gifford

"Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world"-Jean-Luc Godard