The Whale (2023), Director – Darren Aronofsky, A24, 4****: Matthew Alicoon

The Whale


Running Time: 117 Minutes

The Whale follows a reclusive English teacher (Brendan Fraser) suffering with severe obesity, as he tries to reconcile his fragmented relationship with his daughter (Ellie Sink).

The film is based on the play of the same name and both adaptations have been written by Samuel D. Hunter. Matthew Libatique establishes an enigmatic low-key lighting set up but during the opening phase the film feels too stagey. The transitional phase from stage to screen feels too driven towards one area and it does not feel like the production is weighted into the specialism of film within the first 30 minutes. There is an incredibly slow burn tone to the film, as inner complexities are scratched but they are not fully reformed until later. The Whale is coated in the ideologies of past tragedies and how they ignite consequence in the present. As you begin to delve into the psychological headspace of our lead characters, this is where the film starts to excel.

As the narrative progresses, you get to delve far deeper into what the full backstories of our lead characters are and the emotions they can provoke internally and externally are powerfully refined through the acting masterclass that the film beholds. The Whale expertly utilises a 4:3 aspect ratio which
metaphorically represents Charlie’s world caving in within him and around him.

Brendan Fraser gives a tour-de-force of a performance, completely transforming and embodying the role of Charlie. At various points, you can take one look at his facial emotions and they speak highly regarding the level of brokenness within the character. You are captivated by the performance and the words, as Charlie is a really empathetic individual who cares significantly about other people. There still is a shock factor that Brendan Fraser is behind the makeup, as the creative job is sensational. Sadie Sink appears to be unapologetic yet the empathy within her character is fascinatingly explored, as underneath the surface there is a lot to learn regarding the repair of the father and daughter relationship. Hong Chau helps to ground the film by her sympathetic performance, as the dynamic between herself and Brendan Fraser is
life-affirming and joyous. Ty Simpkins and Samantha Norton shine in an incredibly profound final 30 minutes.

The final 30 minutes of The Whale justify the slow burn nature. There is lots of devastation but the film’s pathos comes to a full circle with a live demonstration of an acting masterclass. The Whale strikes the gut-wrenching punches when it needs to but it leaves you going out with a plethora of impactful and deep thoughts about what you have just watched.

A24 is a jarringly ambitious studio that is not afraid to challenge genre-conventions, if not break them. Despite the niche appeal a handful of their films may possess, The Whale is a solid entry into the back catalogue of content that may possibly be remembered more for the ground-breaking
performances rather than the overall film.


Brendan Fraser as Charlie

Sadie Sink as Ellie

Hong Chau as Liz

Ty Simpkins as Thomas

Samantha Morton as Mary

Sathya Sridharan as Dan

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