The Whale (2022)

The Whale (2022)

Needlessly cruel, nakedly manipulative, and inescapably stagy, The Whale is a deeply unserious movie



United States of America
Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, Jacey Sink
116 min


Unbelievably, this stoops even lower than its painfully crude title.

What it's about

On his figurative deathbed, a reclusive, severely obese man attempts to make amends with his estranged teenage daughter.

The take

At one point in The Whale, Brendan Fraser’s Charlie —  a morbidly obese, reclusive teacher — describes an act of abject cruelty as “not evil” but “honesty.” Darren Aronofsky seems to believe the same about his movie, but alas, he's gravely misled, because The Whale is flooringly glib. From the outset, the film actively and incessantly tries to choreograph audience disgust for Charlie, all so that it can pull off a manipulative “he’s human, actually” swing later on — a “twist” that won’t work if you, you know, already accept people’s humanity irrespective of their appearance. 

Cinematography, makeup, and score all conspire to paint Charlie as grotesque: the camera laboriously over-emphasizes his size and mobility issues, while histrionic music chimes in to frame trivial moments (like Charlie reaching to pick something up from the floor) as grand, tragic dramas. Even if you ignore all its needless cruelty, The Whale — which is adapted from a play — can never shed its stagy origins: the writing frequently reaches for transcendence, but its efforts are as subtle as its evidently retroactively-shoehorned-in-title. If it’s as sincere as it purports to be, this is one of the worst movies of recent years, and if it’s not — which is almost preferable — then it’s a landmark exercise in trolling.

What stands out

Fraser and Hong Chau (as Charlie’s friend and carer Liz) are the only redeeming elements here. Though they’re hamstrung by the film around them, they make up for at least *some* of The Whale’s galling disingenuousness with the sincerity of their linked performances (Charlie and Liz are united by grief for someone from their pasts, and seem bound to live through that painful experience again as a result of Charlie’s rapidly failing health). In a movie that nakedly reaches for emotion every chance it can get, these two performances stand out as the only parts that genuinely earn it.


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