Before we actually talk about the film “The Whale,” we must talk about how successful A24’s 2022 has been. Peaking in all kinds of genres and bringing out gems just like this one here, including “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once,” “Bodies, Bodies, Bodies,” “Aftersun,” and more. Now that we have that out of the way let’s talk about “The Whale.” Director Darren Aronofsky clearly enjoys traumatizing his audience with tragic tales, “The Whale” probably being one of the saddest ones of them all. The theme of this film is not new to Darren as we’ve seen addiction in the form of the ‘stay away from drugs kids’ campaign “Requiem For A Dream.” Darren takes the award-winning eponymous play and attempts to deliver a gut-punching film. It seems he loves to work around the negative parts of humanity rather than the positive ones. While “The Whale” is unmistakably a difficult watch, its protagonist Charlie, or rather Brendan Fraser, who plays Charlie, pulls us through the film with ease, carrying the weight of the film quite literally. Personally, I think this is a career-best performance and a banger comeback for one of the best actors of the early 2000s. I’ll probably get terribly judged for this one, but with “Journey to the Center of the Earth” being one of my favorite films as a child, this film had me in puddles for more than just its story. Maybe I took the most important message of this film—speaking your truth through the words you write—a bit too seriously. Putting me aside, let’s understand “The Whale” a little bit.
‘The Whale’ Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?
“The Whale” follows a morbidly obese gay man named Charlie. Charlie is an isolated online English professor who hides under the pretense of a broken webcam so as to avoid showing himself to his students. Charlie has a dear friend named Liz, who happens to be a nurse, and she takes care of him. At the beginning of the film, Charlie looks terribly distressed, like he’s having a heart attack, and a boy named Thomas appears at his door. Thomas doesn’t know what to do, but Charlie requests that he read him an essay that calms him down immediately. When Liz arrives, she realizes Charlie has congestive heart disease, according to Liz’s diagnosis, with terribly high blood pressure, but he refuses to go to the hospital because he doesn’t have insurance. Liz tells Charlie he’ll be dead in a week if he doesn’t do anything about it, but her words are just sounds to Charlie’s ears. Charlie is the way he is because of the loss of his life partner, Alan, who committed suicide after his father disowned him for his ‘sinful’ love for Charlie and kicked him out of their Church. Alan was a staunch believer in New Life’s creed and this broke him. Liz is Alan’s sister, and so she detests the Church and anything to do with it. Thomas is a missionary who actually came to Charlie’s door to try to introduce him to God’s message. Charlie has a daughter named Ellie with his ex-wife Mary, both of whom he left when Ellie was 8. With the realization that he’s dying, Charlie attempts to reconnect with his daughter one last time before handing her a sum of money to know that she’s taken care of later in life.
What Is Charlie Seeking?
As simple as the story of “The Whale” is, there is no simple way to talk about the subject matter of this film. Charlie has five days to connect with his rebellious daughter, who resents him for leaving her behind when she was only eight years old—and that too for “love” with a man. Charlie has been asking her mother about her over the years, but she never told him the extent of Ellie’s rebellion or the fact that she was flunking out of school. Everyone has difficult relationships with their parents as teenagers, and this part of the story is what makes it truly tragic. Charlie and Ellie both want each other in their lives, but Ellie hates Charlie, and Mary doesn’t want Charlie in Ellie’s life. On the other hand, Liz is the only person who sincerely cares for Charlie, but this makes her enable his obsessive behavior. She brings him junk food and doesn’t force him to go to the hospital because she knows he is hurt by that thought. When Mary visits Charlie, she tells him that she wants him in their lives but can’t stand the thought of him “calling her a bad mother.” She believes that Ellie is genuinely evil. It is Charlie who knows that Ellie is not actually evil; he will do anything to see her as perfect and amazing. The truth is, until the end of the film, we don’t know Ellie’s true intentions.
Thomas: What Is His Purpose?
Thomas is not who he says he is, but a runaway who used to be addicted to drugs and was later made to work for the Church back at his home so he could recover. Thomas is not a bad person; his only objective is to help people. When he sees what the Church does to “help people,” he wants to change it. He wants to go door to door and see what he can actually do for people. Unfortunately, his Church doesn’t like his ideas, so he runs away to another state and steals their petty cash, which is over $2000. Ellie is the only person who can see through Thomas. Liz does realize that Thomas isn’t from “New Life,” as he claims to be, but she doesn’t ever get the time to bother him about it. Thomas wants to help Charlie, and the only way he knows how is through the way of God. When Ellie gives Charlie sleeping pills and gets Thomas to come home, she smokes some marijuana in front of him, telling him to take a hit. When he does, she takes a picture of him. He doesn’t know why she’s doing that, but he tells her the truth then. Later, he walks into Alan’s room and shuts the door, not realizing that Ellie is recording their conversation. Thomas tells her everything.
Inside the room, he finds Alan’s Bible, which highlights a particular part about “separating the flesh from the spirit.” Thomas thinks Alan died because he “chose to be with Charlie.” Seeing this verse highlighted makes him affirm this idea. Charlie and Thomas’s relationship has been cordial until this point. Although Charlie doesn’t want anything to do with the almighty, he accepts Thomas’ wandering thoughts in his life. Thomas even insults Charlie by suggesting Charlie would want to have intercourse with him, but Charlie laughs it off, saying he’s not “attractive to him because he’s a foetus.” Then, when Thomas tells him about the verse, Charlie confronts him, making him admit that he’s repulsed by Charlie’s existence. Still, when he realizes Ellie is the reason Thomas gets to go back home, he’s the proudest father. Ellie sends the recording and pictures to Thomas’ parents and his Church, where he stole the money, becoming the reason for Thomas’ return. Charlie’s positive thoughts make him trust that Ellie’s intentions were positive and that she never meant to harm Thomas, making her the perfect daughter in Charlie’s head.
Liz: Friendship Vs. Nursing
Liz was Charlie’s friend before his nurse. She knows what she’s doing for Charlie is not helping him much, but she’s doing it either way. For her, Charlie is somewhat of a replacement for Alan, and when she realizes she’s going to lose him too, just the way she did Alan, she can’t bear the thought of it. She is brutally honest with Charlie about his condition. She doesn’t know that Charlie has saved up all the money from his teaching job in an account for Ellie. When she finds out through Mary about it, she’s devastated and can’t believe Charlie would hide such information from her. When she was struggling to take care of him and told him to go to the hospital, this money could’ve been used. But he never once mentioned it. Charlie is blind to Liz’s sacrifices because of his love for Ellie. Before he dies, Charlie poses the question: does she ever wonder if humans are incapable of not caring? He tells her people are amazing, which, in her eyes, is far from the truth. The truth is that Alan died because of the people who were supposed to care for him. Her adoptive parents symbolically pushed him off that bridge, where he died. By losing Charlie, Liz is left all alone in the end.
Mary: True Love Trumps Hatred
Mary returns to Charlie’s life because of Ellie. Mary can’t believe the state Charlie is in after all these years. She never knew he was doing this to himself, or she would’ve told him to use the money much sooner. Charlie is reminiscent about old memories together, and it’s clear that Mary still loves him dearly. She was only hiding Ellie’s truth because she was afraid of his thoughts about her. Mary yells at Charlie for leaving them and trying to rekindle at the worst time when he’s about to die. She tells him that one time she met Alan when he was already on edge, and she wanted to pierce him with her words but never did. She only helped him to his car with his bags. This provides a link to Charlie’s positive thoughts on humanity.
Ellie: The Perfect Daughter
Ellie is the reason Charlie still lives. Alan was the love of his life, but he never stopped thinking about his daughter. It is true he drifted a little bit in the beginning, and that Ellie hasn’t forgiven him for it. Ellie is almost sociopathic in nature and even gives Charlie sleeping pills when she knows his condition is terrible. Charlie does offer her the bribe of the money he has saved up to make her meet him, but it is clear from the start that she’s just looking for excuses to spend more time with him. Ellie loves her father and wants him in her life. Charlie’s light at the end of the tunnel is Ellie’s beautifully honest essay about the novel “Moby Dick.” She writes that the many “boring chapters” about whales in the book are a way for the author to “save us from his own sad story,” even if just for a little while. To many of us, it is clear that the “Moby Dick” reference is a metaphor for Charlie and Ellie’s relationship. Charlie is the whale, and Ellie is Ahab, who wants to see the “big animal” dead. Ellie finds her life sad, like “Moby Dick.”
In the end, Ellie turns away from Charlie and says, “Daddy, please.” At that moment, our hearts are ripped out, stepped on, and destroyed. Ellie loves her father and wants to reconnect with him; she just doesn’t know how. She’s gone too far in being a rebel, and now it’s too late. In her first meeting with him after a decade, she tells him to stand up and walk toward her without his walker. He isn’t able to do it then, and she stomps out of the house. Now, standing at the cusp of life and death, he asks her to read out her essay to him. His favorite essay in the world, the one with the most honesty. As she reads it, he finally stands up and walks up to her on his two feet. There, as she finishes her essay, he rises to “heaven” as the screen fades to white. Charlie died that day after reaching Ellie. It is clear to Ellie then that Charlie really cared for Ellie when he was alive; he really believed she was an amazing person. Seeing this might change her forever; maybe she will return to normalcy after Charlie’s death.
The Bird: What Does It Represent?
Some of Charlie’s final words to Liz are about the caring nature of humans. It is clear to us how caring Charlie is as he feeds a bird outside his window some fruit, even when he needs support to walk for himself and doesn’t step out of his house for anything. Charlie’s nature is good, and even after that, his life is terrible for many reasons, but still, he manages to stay good.
Dan: Are People Intrinsically Caring?
In the end, Charlie goes downhill when the delivery man, Dan, who always asks Charlie how he’s doing when he leaves his food at the door, sees his obese self. Dan is clearly disgusted by Charlie. Dan represents society in “The Whale.” Charlie knows that if he shows himself to anybody outside, they will treat him badly. They would insult him. After Dan sees him, Charlie goes into a frenzied state of overeating out of depression. Later, when he gives his last lecture to his students, he turns on his webcam and shows them what he looks like. Some of them start to take photos of him and some laugh. It is a fact that people will be horrible to people like Charlie in the world. He then flings the laptop to the ground, killing it before things go out of hand. Charlie continues to believe in and trust in human nature even after going through all of this, making this a truly heartbreaking story to remember.