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Review: 'The Whale' is a claustrophobic psychological drama

 Brendan Fraser{ } (Photo: A24, Niko Tavernise)
Brendan Fraser (Photo: A24, Niko Tavernise)
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The Whale
3 out of 5 Stars
Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Samuel D. Hunter
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins
Genre: Drama
Rated: R for language, some drug use and sexual content.

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Studio Synopsis: From Darren Aronofsky comes The Whale, the story of a reclusive English teacher living with severe obesity who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter for one last chance at redemption. Starring Brendan Fraser and based on the acclaimed play by Samuel D. Hunter.

Review: Director Darren Aronofsky has never been afraid to stray into the darker aspects of life. Some would suggest that he dwells in it. “The Whale” isn’t nearly as difficult to watch as “Requiem for a Dream,” as relentlessly brutal as “Mother!,” or as psychologically gripping as “Black Swan.” It is unquestionably better than “Noah,” but that’s hardly a surprise.

“The Whale” is adapted by Samuel D. Hunter from his stage play of the same name. It sticks to its theatrical roots in that most of the story takes place in the dark and cluttered living room of Charlie (Brendan Fraser), an obese man who earns a modest living teaching an online course. His mobility is extremely limited, and his health is in rapid decline. Charlie wants to reconnect with his daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink), but their relationship may be beyond repair.

The location gives the film a sense of claustrophobia. The walls are moving in. A whale in a glass cage.

There are inevitably a million ways to view “The Whale.” My reading was the story of a man who was knocked over by tragedy and has never been able to get back up off the ground. He’s selfish by nature. A man with a singular vision who is stubbornly blind to the wreckage he leaves in his wake. He’s not an entirely unsympathetic character. I found pieces of myself in Charlie in scattered moments. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that. Fraser is good and it’s fantastic to have him acting again. I don’t know that his performance deserves a six-minute ovation, but I’d argue that he, as a person, probably does.

Sadie Sink is quite strong as Charlie’s daughter Ellie. The character is a bit one-note but so are a lot of angry teenagers. Liz, played Hong Chau is an emerging talent (you might recognize her from “The Menu” and I’m looking forward to seeing her in Kelly Reichardt’s “Showing Up”), was the most interesting character. Samantha Morton as Mary, Charlie’s ex-wife, is predictably solid.

I’m a bit confused by Thomas (Ty Simpkins). I believe in the original play he is an LDS (Mormon) missionary. For the film they’ve changed it. Regardless, the character didn’t really work for me.

Ultimately, “The Whale” is an interesting film with open to a variety of analysis. As for claims that the film is fatphobic? I don’t think that was the intention. That doesn’t mean it can’t be read that way. Our individual experiences and sensitivities will change the way that we react to art.

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