Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale is hate disguised as tough love

There’s a team on the ground at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival reporting on horror, comedy, drama and action films meant to dominate the cinematic conversation as we head into awards season. This review was published in conjunction with the film’s TIFF premiere.

A24’s whale Darren lets down all of Aronofsky’s evil tendencies in a fat suit. It is an exercise in objection to Aronofsky’s tyrannical mode. Requiem for a DreamBut it focuses on an even more sensitive target RequiemThe addicts It’s also full of pet bible wankery Mother, NoahAnd FountainBut centered on a Christ figure whose masochistic superpower is to absorb the cruelty of all those around him and store it safely inside his massive frame.

To be fair, few people enjoy this kind of plight. But these viewers are also warned that not only is this film difficult to tolerate and likely to be actively harmful to some viewers, it is also a self-serving reinforcement of the status quo—one of the most boring of things. One of which could be a movie.

For a film that, in the most lenient reading possible, encourages viewers to consider that perhaps there is a painful backstory behind a body they consider “disgusting” (the word of the film), whale Its protagonist Charlie (Brendan Fraser) seems to have no interest in the point of view. Charlie is a middle-aged divorcee who lives in a small apartment somewhere in Idaho, where he teaches online English composition classes. Charlie never turns on his camera during lectures, because he’s fat – very fat, about 600 pounds. Charlie has trouble getting around without a walker, and he has adaptive devices like grabber sticks lying around his house.

If an alien descends on Earth and wonders whether the human species found its largest members attractive or repulsive, whale Will clearly communicate the answer. Aronofsky turns on the Foley audio whenever Charlie is eating, to emphasize the wet sound of his lips snorting together. He plays ominous music under these scenes so we know he’s doing something really bad, Fraser’s neck and upper lip are always covered in sweat, and his T-shirt is dirty and covered in crumbs. At one point, he takes off his shirt and slowly goes to his bed, dangling rolls of artificial fat dangling from his body as he stares at the camera like a rough animal. If the audience still doesn’t think they find him disgusting, he reads an essay moby-dick And how a whale is “a poor big animal” with no feelings.

And that’s what Aronofsky said about him through directing the film. In the story whaleThe first half of the film is a string of humiliations, beginning with an evangelical missionary named Thomas (Ty Simpkins) who runs into Charlie because he’s having a heart attack, a pathetic attempt at masturbation while still gay. playing on his laptop. Charlie’s nurse and only friend, Liz (Hong Chow), is mostly kind to him, though she accompanies him with a bucket of fried chicken and a meatball sub. So is Thomas, though he is less interested in Charlie as a person than in a soul to save him. But Charlie’s 17-year-old daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) openly despises him, and says the most vicious things she can think of to punish Charlie for leaving him and his mother, Mary (Samantha Morton). when Eli was 8 years old.

Aronofsky and author Samuel D. Hunter (adopting his own stage play) doesn’t reveal the condescending point of all this until the second half of the film: Charlie is a saint, a Christ figure, the fat man who loved the world so much, he lost his life. I allowed people to treat him like a perfect dog so that they could be freed from their hatred and his sins. Meanwhile, a subplot involving Thomas’s past life in Iowa makes the bizarre claim that people are actually trying to help when they treat others unkindly, which can only be true if that hostility. The target of does not know what is good for them. So which one is it? Should a person turn the other cheek, or be cruel to be kind? Depends whether they are fat or not, it seems. Charlie never comments on the other characters smoking and drinking, but they certainly do comment on his weight.

probably the most disappointing thing whale How close does this come to some kind of insight. Aronofsky and Hunter only needed to show some empathy and curiosity about people the size of Charlie, rather than guessing at their motivations. The main culprit here is a plot point where Charlie refuses to go to the hospital, even though his blood pressure is dangerously high and he is showing signs of congestive heart failure. First, he lies to Liz and says that he doesn’t have the money to pay the massive medical bills, which he will accrue as an uninsured patient. It then emerges that Charlie has over $100,000 in savings.

Charlie's 17-year-old daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) stands halfway through a doorway looking sad in The Whale

Photo: A24

whale He understands it as a combination of selflessness – the money he is hoping to give to Eli after he dies – and suicide. What sets off Aronofsky and Hunter’s projection of Charlie’s motivations: Extensive studies have uncovered why obese patients avoid medical treatment, and it has nothing to do with self-sacrificing messiah-complicated nonsense. . Doctors are just as cruel to fat people – and disproportionately likely to dismiss, humiliate, and misdiagnose them.

The other disappointing thing is that Brendan Fraser in the title role is actually a significant asset. He plays Charlie as a smart, witty, thoughtful man who loves language and creativity, and refuses to let the tragic circumstances of his life turn him into a freak. He sees the best in everyone, even Ellie, whom he insults with affirmation and support. (She’s hurting, you see.) Fraser’s eyes are kind, and her eyebrows are clouded with sadness and worry.

But if there’s a fury behind those eyes, we don’t see it. If Charlie is just telling people what they want to hear in hopes of reducing their misbehavior, that doesn’t translate. The film seems to be satisfied by his surface-level protests that he is fine and happy and just an inherently positive boy, which again reflects Charlie’s lack of interest in his inner emotional life – a man inside Fraser’s emblem. Despite a sensitive effort to find

Aronofsky and his team are more interested in his cleverness. Some of the barbs thrown in Charlie’s apartment are actually pretty funny. (The film shows her theatrical roots openly: the entire story takes place within the confines of Charlie’s apartment and front porch.) Chow especially brings a prickly warmth to her role as Liz, a sort of Friend whose love language is fickle insult, and whose purpose in life is as a fierce protector. Liz is hurting too, of course; Everyone is here. But while everyone is getting hurt, it is Charlie who bears the brunt of it the most.

if you look whale As a fable, the moral of this is that it is the responsibility of abusers to love and forgive their abusers. The movie thinks it’s saying, “You don’t understand, she’s fat because she’s suffering.” But it ends by saying, “You don’t understand, we have to be cruel to fat people, because We But Aronofsky and Hunter’s biblical allegory aside, fat people don’t willingly serve as a reservoir of society’s anger and contempt. No one agrees to be bullied so that To make the bully feel better about himself – this is what a volunteer liar tells himself. This is an outwardly imposed martyrdom, which negates the point of the exercise.

In whaleIn , Aronofsky presents his sadism as an intellectual experiment that challenges viewers to discover the humanity buried under Charlie’s thick layers of fat. It’s not as beneficial to a base as it thinks it is. This proceeds from the assumption that a 600-pound man is naturally unattainable. It’s like walking up to a stranger on the street and saying, “You’re an abomination, but I love you anyway,” in keeping with the strong tension of self-satisfied Christianity that the film is meant to criticize. Audience members are proud of themselves to shed a few tears for this hideous whale, while not gaining any new insight into what that whale is really like. This is not sympathy. It’s a pity, buried under a thick, blazing layer of contempt.

whale Will debut in theaters on December 9.

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