By Josh Reilly B. and George Bate
The Awards season is here as countless films are releasing in the hopes of being a contender at 2023s’ most prestigious festivals and ceremonies. In recent weeks alone, Avatar: The Way of Water, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, The Fablemans, and more have debuted, and all of these titles are set to be serious contenders to, at the very least, be nominated for Best Picture at the next Academy Awards.
Another one of these hopefuls is The Whale, directed by Darren Aranofsky (Black Swan, Mother!) and starring Brendan Fraser. Much has been made of Fraser’s role in this film, not only because of the transformative nature (the actor wore a 300 pound prosthetic suit in order to portray a morbidly obese man), but because his career stalled slightly in the past decade or so. Now, he’s back, and is the clear front runner to win Best Actor at all of the major awards ceremonies next year. It’s been quite a year for Fraser, who has developed a base of supporters desperate to see him get recognition after a hard spell in his life and career.
As stated, Fraser plays a morbidly obese man named Charlie, who weighs so much that he cannot stand without a walker and has only a few days to live at most. Time is running out, but Charlie’s daughter, Ellie, played by Sadie Sink (Stranger Things), comes back into his life when she is at a crossroads herself. With his remaining time, Charlie attempts to reconnect with his daughter, while also still grieving from the loss of his partner and his regret over decisions made in the past.
The Whale is based on a play, and this inspiration is noticeable throughout this film as it is largely set in one room. A venture outward, even to the bathroom or the bedroom, is quite the ordeal and takes a significant amount of effort and time for Charlie, and this feeling remains for the audience as well. Seemingly simple tasks are grueling, so the lead character is isolated to his living room chair. The nature of this means that this film is heavily reliant on dialogue to remain engaging and interesting, which it certainly achieves throughout. It’s as gripping a film as audiences will see all year, such is the strength of these often incredibly moving, complex, and emotional conversations.
This is certainly a tamer outing for director Aronofsky than some of his previous work like Mother!, but it still holds the psychological drama elements that he likes to tap into. Charlie’s life in this film is nothing short of a nightmare, with no family coming to see him, unprocessed guilt and grief over the past, and a distinct lack of independence, all of which leads him to be so ashamed of his true self that he can’t even bring himself to turn on the camera during his online university classes that he teaches. In that regard, this new film certainly plays with many of those same elements, albeit in a way that is more realistic, grounded, and focused on the human beings in the story. Those trips to the bedroom or the bathroom that were mentioned earlier certainly add to this aspect of the horror of this story, if it can be described as such.
The ultimate highlight of this film, though, is Brendan Fraser. It is a transformative performance in every sense of the word, not only because of the prosthetic suit he wears throughout but because of how real this character feels. His life, his decisions, and the tangible feeling of regret that Charlie has are all relatable as they are tragic. One doesn’t have to be morbidly obese to relate to Charlie’s story in some way, even if it’s just a connection with some of the broader themes throughout. The script does well to bring this character over from the stage to the big screen, but it’s Brendan Fraser that gives him life and makes him real. Towards the beginning of the movie, it seemed a worrying possibility that the suit could end up being a distraction for the audience and a barrier from seeing Fraser’s performance, but those fears go away soon after, such is the power of the acting.
This film also sheds some interesting light on bigotry in society that isn’t often discussed, the negative views on obesity and overweight individuals. Brendan Fraser said this much when talking about the film recently, stating that society is getting better at calling out injustice but still has a long way to go when it comes to this particular subject matter. The Whale beautifully humanizes people who struggle with overeating and, more broadly, eating disorders, and does so in a truly touching way.
Brendan Fraser gives the best performance of the year in The Whale, a tragic and deeply emotional film about a man trying to reconnect with his daughter in the final days of his life. This should certainly be a serious awards contender across multiple categories in the coming months, such is the quality of the film.