Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale: Review


A24, Matthew Libatique

One of Aronofsky’s more reserved works, The Whale is a devastating portrait of obesity, grief, parenthood, and faith. Brendan Fraser’s performance is outstanding.

Although there was a lot of preemptive criticism labeling it as offensive, after viewing this movie, the critiques read as purely reactionary. This is arguably the most empathetic performance of the new decade. It may have been hard to watch at times, but a film tackling these themes shouldn’t be a breeze to watch. The discomfort only made the movie more gripping.

Sadie Sink’s performance as Ellie was just as devastating as Fraser’s performance as Charlie. Her portrayal of the effects of living in a home broken far beyond repair and her confrontations with Charlie nearly brought a tear to my eye. Her arc is one of forgiveness, and the way her character tests the limits of love and forgiveness was beautiful to watch. The twist that her character wrote the essay that Charlie had been using as a way to cope with his own condition was beautiful.

The film’s examination of faith was also interesting. Charlie’s dead lover Alan’s life revolved around religion and it cost him his life. This leads Charlie to resent religion as well. In fact, every character has a unique reason to resent religion, whether it be Ellie’s entire worldview being antithetical to religion, Liz’s relationship with her father, or Mary’s depressing downward spiral ever since she had to raise Ellie all by herself. This is true for every character except Ty Simpkins as Thomas, a missionary from  the exotic faraway land of Iowa, who is religious to a fault in more ways than are immediately obvious. He acts as a foil to all these characters as they all have diametrically opposed worldviews to him—they’re apathetic to their circumstances and have met inertia—but Thomas is ambitious in his quest. He believes 2016 America is the end times but really it’s only the end times for Charlie and the relationship between Thomas and Charlie is heartbreaking.

The entire film is full of grief, and that’s why seeing it was so profoundly impactful.