By: Laura Bennett
Against the backdrop of a culture fed up with “fat shaming” and one that pushes against the link between identity and body size, a story about a morbidly obese recluse could be a difficult sell.
Although, The Whale quickly proves it’s not making a spectacle of its lead’s size but using it as a metaphor for far greater issues of identity and value.
Based on the play by Samuel D. Hunter and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Limitless, Black Gold), The Whale stars Brendan Fraser (The Mummy, Crash) as Charlie, an English teacher who’s attempting to reconnect with his estranged daughter after leaving his family for a forbidden lover in the early years of his marriage.
There’s so much to glean from The Whale it’s hard to know where to focus.
From trauma bonds to quests for redemption and crises of faith each character is rich with their own backstory, offering another angle on how we arrive at the beliefs we do about God, good and evil and the importance of our one life.
The faith thread of The Whale isn’t hinted at in the trailer but is a significant part of the storyline.
Early on the movie a doorknocker named Thomas (Ty Simpkins) arrives at Charlie’s house to share the “the good news of Jesus”. Not knowing what lies behind the door, Thomas is confronted by Charlie’s physical state and ends up in a reoccurring exchange with him where he’s intent on helping Charlie “get well”. However, the relationship causes Thomas to confront his own religious bias and assumptions and the areas where he needs healing too.
Thomas realises Charlie has a history with the church that’s fed into his current state, and although he’d naively like to believe that simply knowing “Jesus loves him” would be enough for Charlie to “want saving” the complexity of Charlies situation won’t allow it.
Brendan Fraser’s performance is worthy of the praise it’s getting, but it’s the unflinching humanity brought to a broad excavation of human dilemmas that really makes The Whale shine.
It’s fair to think the Christian viewer would side with Thomas and his eternity-minded intentions, but you also find yourself gravitating towards the humble and endearing Charlie who graciously lets Thomas share his views – despite all the while having such personal and painful reasons for finding them hard to swallow.
There’s a spiritual depth in The Whale many viewers won’t be expecting that challenges how we relate Christian faith to the world and treat people we may believe are “lost”.
The Whale also shows us that people’s response to faith is inextricably linked to their history with the church and experience of religion. When you bring up God or say you’re “a Christian”, you’ll be on the receiving end of all they associate with those terms, whether it relates to your words and behaviour or not.
Brendan Fraser’s performance is worthy of the praise it’s getting – he’s been nominated for an Academy Award for Actor in a Leading Role for his performance – but it’s the unflinching humanity brought to a broad excavation of human dilemmas that really makes The Whale shine.
The Whale is for mature audiences – pressing on some uncomfortable and divisive themes – but does so in service of its characters and the audience meeting them.
The Whale is in cinemas now. Rated M
Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.
Feature image: Movie Stills
About the Author: Laura Bennett is a media professional, broadcaster and writer from Sydney, Australia.