By having a small cast with volatile emotions paired with a fat suit that is used to elicit sympathy, “The Whale” may make you cry, but its lasting impact is questionable.
|Screenplay By||Samuel D. Hunter|
|Based On||The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter|
|Date Released (In Theaters)||12/9/2022|
|Date Released (Film Festival – Montclair Film Festival)||10/23/2022|
|Genre(s)||Drama, LGBT+, Family|
|Duration||1 Hour, 57 Minutes|
|Content Rating||Rated R|
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Charlie, at his current point, is a kind, apologetic man, whose life consists of meatball subs, watching TV with his former boyfriend’s sister, and teaching classes. In some ways, Charlie’s life is simple. However, the more you know, the more you realize how complicated it is.
The reason Charlie is apologetic is because of guilt. He left his wife, Mary, and daughter, Ellie, when she was a child, for one of his students, a young man named Alan. Who died, via suicide, and it seems since then, Charlie has eaten his feelings to the point of weighing 600 pounds and having blood pressure so high that Liz, Alan’s sister, believes Charlie won’t last the week.
With that in mind, to make amends, Charlie hopes he can lure his daughter, who is nearly an adult, to his home, with $120,000 dangling over her head. But, unbeknownst to Charlie, his daughter is increasingly a menace and, like Charlie, values the truth. But while Charlie has learned to accept his truth and others, mainly in writing and verbally, Ellie demands it from everyone but herself. Thus causing clashes as she warms up to the idea of letting her father back into her life but struggles with the aftermath of him leaving her and her mother.
Things To Note
Why Is “The Whale” Rated R
- Dialog: There is the use of the word “Faggot” once, and some cursing
- Violence: Ellie does drug her dad, but not to kill him
- Sexual Content: You will see Charlie shower, but nothing notable shows
- Miscellaneous: There is drinking, smoking, drug use, and vomitting
Question(s) Left Unanswered
- Why didn’t Liz change Charlie’s diet, considering she is the one doing all of his shopping and food buying?
- Was Charlie against the hospital and doctors purely out of being ashamed of how he looked or because he longed to die but didn’t have it in him to commit suicide like Alan?
Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member, and character descriptions may contain what can be considered spoilers.
At one time, Charlie was a father of one who enjoyed teaching English and getting his students to learn how to express themselves in the most poignant ways. Now, he is a self-imposed housebound man who is only seen by his best friend Liz and seemingly is hell-bent on eating himself to death.
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17-year-old Ellie just wants out. She wants out of high school, her mother’s house, out of this life, which has been utterly miserable for her. So Charlie offering her money to spend time with him and write? While they have bad blood, she isn’t going to pass up easy money.
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A pessimist, an alcoholic but the one who stayed, Mary has struggled to raise Ellie, even with Charlie’s court ordered and generous financial assistance. But, at this point, she is sure her daughter is some kind of evil, and there is no hope for her.
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Liz is a nurse who has done her best to provide some type of medical care to Charlie, but she is at her limits. This hurts her because Charlie, her best friend, might be her only friend and her remaining connection to her brother Alan. So losing him is not something she wants to think about.
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Thomas is a missionary who wants to go door to door, reach out and speak to people, heal and counsel them, making meeting Charlie for him seem like fate.
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Our Rating: Positive (Worth Seeing)
It’s Delicate About The Weight
Only towards the end is Charlie’s weight noted as disgusting, and Charlie has to push for someone to say that to him. More often than not, Charlie is criticized for his actions in the past or present, and the weight is the side effect of his grief. So be it getting off the couch, walking, having high blood pressure, or the shame which comes from knowing how the majority of people see someone fat, never mind obese, this is internalized more than verbalized. If not simply a matter of fact that Charlie is fat, rather than the creative team making an association that becoming fat is Charlie’s punishment.
For as shown by Liz, Thomas, Mary to a point, and Ellie, Charlie is not hard to love. Liz can even be seen, multiple times, resting on his shoulder, tickling him, or showing him affection. The issue has, and always has been, Charlie’s inability to handle confrontation with others or, in the case of his sexuality before Mary, himself.
The Fear Of Being Alone & Your Life Lacking Meaning
The fear of being alone and life lacking meaning is strong throughout “The Whale.” Charlie is the primary person you see this from, as he courts Ellie and fears Liz eventually growing tired of him. For example, Charlie’s rate of apologizing is damn near so incessant you’d fathom he is apologizing for existing. Yet, any company, even that of a missionary named Thomas, even if Thomas’ faith played a role in Alan’s death, is welcomed for Charlie.
But Charlie isn’t alone. Liz can clearly see with every meatball sub that every time she enables Charlie’s bad habits, she is slowly adding to his long-game suicide. Yet, considering how quickly her brother died and she couldn’t help him, you can see the hope is, while enabling Charlie, she hopes she can break through to him. That showing up, by not abandoning him, being affectionate, and making it clear he is loved, maybe he will remember life is worth living, and he should get the kind of help that is beyond her.
And you can see for Mary, her issue of feeling like she failed to raise her daughter into someone different from her weighs on her. Particularly since she seeks to find meaning through thinking she did something right. After all, Mary is a skeptic, a pessimist, and the complete opposite of Charlie. So the fear that may have ruined Ellie’s life is strong, and if she failed her, then what has she done that is purposeful with her life?
Lastly, with Ellie, you can tell she is a mix of her parents. She wants the bold, naked truth, as her father wants, but her expectation that the truth is dark, murky, and sinister makes anyone not going into the wound feel fake. Thus pushing her need to push and prod, as Charlie does towards the end of the movie, to hear something raw and unfiltered.
And it is in Ellie dealing with her father’s optimism, his kindness, that you can see she isn’t lost to the world just yet. Yes, the idea of someone being nice to her, Charlie especially, seems foreign and worth a side eye, but it is through their relationship healing and both cleaning the wound that was infected and scarred over, that new life becomes possible for both.
On The Fence
Not Getting To Know The Person Charlie Left His Life For
Alan is someone talked about, not heard, and only seen through pictures. Because of that, it is hard to get or accept Charlie leaving his wife and daughter, seemingly abruptly and deciding to be selfish. Now, yes, Charlie got married, had a kid, and now identifies as gay, so you can assume he was closeted. Add in they are seemingly in some rural area, and you can imagine Charlie didn’t have the freedom to explore his sexuality, and meeting someone who liked him for him was the kind of opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Yet, with not meeting Alan and getting your own take on him, never mind how he felt about Charlie abandoning his family, you’re left with nothing but everyone talking about Alan in a lovely way, despite potentially knowing what he did. And considering Fraser makes Charlie so nice and endearing, you may feel you are missing an essential part of the story. Especially as Charlie’s demeanor grows old and makes you wonder who was he when he decided to put himself first?
Because, as much as there is a need to praise Brendan Fraser’s performance, him playing a nice guy throughout “The Whale” pushes the idea any accolades he gains is more so because of him playing someone likable. Alongside a character who is easy to pity than truly a triumphant role.
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