“Who would want me to be part of their life?”Charlie
The Whale is emotionally manipulative in its presentation of a shut-in who has become morbidly obese, an effective tearjerker but less profound than Aronofky’s previous work. Charlie is presented sympathetically, using impressive prosthetics and shot predominantly in soft light that delivers an often beautiful appearance despite the comparative squalor in which he lives. Swelling music makes every movement feel like a heroic effort though the camera seems largely impassive even as Charlie gorges himself inside the single-location set that reveals The Whale’s roots as a stage play. It has been heralded as a return for Brendan Fraser but, although his sensitive portrayal of Charlie — augmented by audience knowledge of Fraser’s fallout with Hollywood — may be the lead, the straightforward blend of kindess, shame and regret is less interesting than the supporting characters who surround him. Hong Chau is particularly compelling as Charlie’s friend and nurse, tied to him by a tragedy but frustrated at his refusal to get help and left hollow by the knowledge of his likely demise. The script bears a clear grudge with religion though it is less well-developed aside from a distinction between saving someone and preaching salvation (“I don’t think I believe anyone can save anybody”). Repeated references to Moby Dick cast Charlie as both Ahab and the whale, chasing his own destruction. Sadie Sink’s most high profile performance following Stranger Things is impressive as Charlie’s estranged daughter, seeming at first mercurial and capricious until we perceive pain and purpose, her defiance competing with curiosity about her father. Yet, for all the talent at work, a late in life attempt at redemption and reconcilliation with a daughter is something Aronofsky has already produced with greater subtlety in The Wrestler.