The Whale review: Darren Aronofsky has some weird ideas about fat people

Polygon has a cast on the ground at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, reporting on horror, comedy, drama and action films that aim to dominate the cinematic conversation as we approach awards season. This review was published in conjunction with the TIFF premiere.

A24’s Whale Darren Aronofsky’s worst tendencies fall into a fat suit. It is an exercise in the meanness of the method of torturing Aronofsky Requiem for a dreambut focus on a weaker target than massaddicted. It is also filled with the biblical animal of pets the mother!And the NoahAnd the FountainIt revolves around the figure of Christ, whose supernatural power is to absorb the cruelty of everyone around him and store it safely inside his huge body.

To be fair, some people enjoy that kind of unhappiness. But these viewers also cautioned that not only is this film difficult to bear and potentially effectively harmful to some audiences, it is also a self-serving reinforcement of the status quo — one of the most boring things a movie can be.

For a film that encourages viewers, in the best possible reading, to think that there may be a painful background behind the bodies they consider “disgusting” (the word of the film), Whale He doesn’t seem to care much about the point of view of protagonist Charlie (Brendan Fraser). 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 his camera on 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 grab sticks stashed around his house.

If an alien lands on Earth and wonders whether the human race has found its largest members attractive or repulsive, Whale The answer will be conveyed clearly. Aronofsky plays Foley’s sound when he eats Charlie, to emphasize the wet sound of lips striking together. He plays ominous music under these sequences, so we know Charlie is doing something Really very bad. Fraser’s neck and upper lip are always adorned with sweat, and his shirt is dirty and covered in crumbs. On one occasion, he took off his shirt and slowly made his way to his bed, dangling rolls of synthetic fat hanging from his body as he leaned toward the camera like the ruthless beast that he is. In case viewers don’t realize they’re supposed to find it disgusting, read an article about it Moby Dick And how the whale is a “big poor animal” without feelings.

And that’s exactly what Aronofsky conveys about him by directing the film. story in WhaleThe first half is a gauntlet of humiliation, as an evangelist named Thomas (Ty Simpkins) starts interfering with Charlie because he’s having a heart attack, and he’s still gay on his laptop from a pathetic attempt at masturbation. Nurse Charlie and her only friend, Liz (Hong Chao), are mostly nice to him, though they do get him to get meatballs and buckets of fried chicken. So is Thomas, though he is less concerned with Charlie as a person than with the soul to be saved. But Charlie’s 17-year-old daughter, Ellie (Sadi Sink), openly despises him, and says the most vicious thing she can think of is to punish Charlie for leaving her and her mother, Mary (Samantha Morton), when Ellie was eight.

Aronofsky and writer Samuel D. Hunter (adapting his own play) don’t reveal the point of condescension in all of this until the second half of the film: Charlie is a saint, the figure of Christ, and the fat man who loved the world so much. That he let people in his life treat him as a complete despicable to absolve them of their hatred and his hatred of him of his sins. Meanwhile, a subplot involving Thomas’ past life in Iowa makes the strange assertion that people really do try to help when they treat others inappropriately, something that can only be true if the target of this animosity doesn’t know what’s good for them. So what is it? Should a man turn the other cheek, or be too cruel to be kind? It seemed to depend on whether they were fat. Charlie never comments about the other characters’ smoking and drinking, but they certainly do comment on his weight.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing was Whale is how close it is to some kind of insight. Aronofsky and Hunter both needed to show some sympathy and curiosity about the scale of Charlie’s people, rather than paternalistic guesswork at their motives. The main culprit here is a plot point in which Charlie refuses to go to the hospital, even though his blood pressure is dangerously high and he is showing symptoms of congestive heart failure. At first, he lies to Liz and says he doesn’t have the money to pay the huge medical bills he would have collected as an uninsured patient. Then it turns out that Charlie has savings of more than $100,000.

Charlie's 17-year-old daughter Ellie (Sadi Sink) stands in the middle of the road surrounded by a doorway, looking sad, at The Whale

Photo: Niko Tavernise / A24

Whale He understands this as a combination of selflessness – he hopes to give this money to Ellie after his death – and suicide. What gives Aronofsky and Hunter’s projection about Charlie’s motives is that Extensive studies have shown why obese patients avoid medical treatment, and has nothing to do with self-sacrifice – the compound nonsense of Christ. Doctors are cruel to obese people – and are disproportionately likely to dismiss, humiliate and misdiagnose them.

The other frustrating thing is that Brendan Fraser is actually an important asset in the title role. He plays Charlie as an intelligent, funny, and thoughtful man who loves language and creativity, and refuses to allow the tragic circumstances of his life to turn him into a cynic. He sees the best in everyone, even Ellie, whose insults he resists with affirmations and support. (It hurts, you see.) Fraser’s eyes are kind, and his eyebrows furrowed with sadness and worry.

But if there is any anger behind those eyes, we don’t see it. If Charlie is only telling people what they want to hear in hopes of reducing their abuse, that doesn’t translate. The film seems content with its superficial objections that he’s fine and happy and that he’s just a naturally positive guy, betraying again his lack of interest in Charlie’s inner love life — despite Fraser’s sensitive attempt to find a man within the code.

Aronofsky and his team care more about their intelligence. Some of the barbs thrown at Charlie’s apartment are actually pretty funny. (The film openly shows its theatrical roots: the entire story takes place within the confines of Charlie’s apartment and front porch.) Chow in particular lends the prickly warmth to her role as Liz, the kind of friend whose endearing language is playful insults, and whose goal in life is to be a fierce defender. Liz is also in pain, of course; Everyone is here. But while everyone else is hurting, Charlie has to suffer the most.

If you look at Whale As a myth, morally it is the abuser’s responsibility to love and forgive those who abuse him. The movie thinks he’s saying, “You don’t understand; he’s fat because he suffers.” But he ended up saying, “You don’t understand; we have to be tough on fat people, because we is suffering.” Regardless of Aronofsky and Hunter’s biblical metaphor, fat people have not volunteered to serve as repositories of society’s anger and contempt. No one agrees to be harassed until a bully feels better about themselves—this is a self-serving lie that bullies tell themselves. This is martyrdom imposed from the outside. It negates the meaning of the exercise.

in WhaleAronofsky posits sadism as a thought experiment, challenging viewers to find humanity buried beneath Charlie’s thick layers of fat. This is no better than a hypothesis, as he seems to think it is. It proceeds from the assumption that a 600-pound man is inherently unlovable. It’s like going to a stranger on the street and saying, “You’re an abomination, but I love you anyway,” in keeping with the strong pressure of the self-satisfied Christianity that the film claims to be criticizing. Audience members walk away proud of themselves for having shed a few tears over this disgusting whale, while not gaining any new idea of ​​what it’s like to actually be this whale. This is not sympathy. This is unfortunate, buried under a thick and suffocating layer of contempt.

Whale It will debut in theaters on December 9.

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