A drama that is essentially character-driven, full of silences and internal monologues. Aronofsky’s films have a track record of being intense viewing experiences. The official trailer of Darren Aronofsky’s much-anticipated feature, “The Whale,” was released by the production house A24 on Tuesday. After its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where it received a 6-minute standing ovation for its leading star, Brendan Fraser, “The Whale” has been hotly tipped to be a favorite come awards season. Now that A24 is backing it consider it a major force in the upcoming awards season.
“The Whale,” based on the play by Samuel D. Hunter, stars Fraser as Charlie, a reserved English teacher who is trying to connect with his estranged daughter Ellie (you might remember her as Max in Netflix’s Stranger Things). Charlie had abandoned his family to unite with his same-sex lover, who later passed away. Out of an overwhelming sense of loss and pain, Charlie starts to binge eat. He has become obese, now weighs around 600 pounds, and mostly lives alone. Hong Chau stars as Charlie’s friend and caregiver, Liz. “The Whale” also stars Samantha Morton, Ty Simkins, and Huck Milner.
Although the trailer is barely a minute long, it provides us with a glimpse of the moody, sepia-tinted interior world of “The Whale” in quiet, wordless detail. The voiceover slowly takes precedence as he questions whether anyone has a similar realization that people are inevitably bound to care. Is there no such thing as not caring? As the music cuts, we see it is Charlie who says with a hushed sense of wisdom, “People are amazing.” Through these short sentences, the trailer cleverly leaves us with a tease. We only know that Charlie has been in isolation and pain, and yet he holds a lot of positive affirmation for the people around him. To call people amazing and incapable of not caring hides a deep sense of loss and pain. Charlie is holding on to the hope for the better, never closing his eyes to the inherent humanity around him. We get a passing shot of Sadie Sink and Hong Chau, respectively, in the trailer as well.
From what the trailer of “The Whale” suggests, Darren Aronofsky has created a psychological study of a character who is stoic yet hopeful, someone who wants to achieve redemption. This is a far cry from the director’s other works, where there is some sort of kinetic motion that jolts the viewer’s senses in action. Think of that horrifying closeup of Jared Leto’s arm as the puss dries up in Requiem for a Dream or Natalie Portman’s unhinged, climactic dance as the black swan in Black Swan. Aronofsky likes motion and restlessness; his scenes overlap and juxtapose to form a hyperactive style. “The Whale,” from what it seems, looks like a different kind of style for the director. “The Whale” looks subdued and quieter in treatment; it is not forceful or abrasive but rather steady and resourceful in its favor. With “The Whale,” Aronofsky seems to have entered a different phase in his directorial choices.
The official trailer arrives after months of anticipation around the film’s release, given its massive run at all the major fall festivals, which include the Toronto Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, and London Film Festival. Notice how the trailer mentions several review quotes, with particular emphasis on Brendan Fraser’s transformative central performance. It contains quotes from reviews included in major online publications, calling the film an utter triumph and saying that Fraser delivers a gutting performance that will floor you.
Fraser is almost unrecognizable under the layers of makeup and prosthetics. At the Venice Film Festival, he told reporters that the entire process of costume and makeup was seamless, and he is hopeful that the audience will be able to connect with the film. “The Whale” marks Fraser’s comeback to the movies after a long time. We have seen his breakout role in “George of the Jungle” (1997), and later an outstanding performance in “The Mummy” (1999) made him a household name of his generation. He further starred in “The Mummy” sequels, but due to the intense physical activity that was required for “The Mummy” franchise films, Fraser had to undergo a lot of surgeries. He underwent a critical medical operation called a laminectomy, which is a surgery done to remove parts of the vertebrae from the spine.
Furthermore, in 2018, Fraser accused that in 2003 the former president of the HFPA named, Philip Berk, sexually assaulted him. This accusation received a lot of backlashes, for which he stayed out of the limelight for several years, only appearing in forgettable cameos in “No Sudden Move,” “The Poison Rose,” and “The Nut Job.” “The Whale” marks his comeback as a leading role, which fans have since termed a “Brenaissance,” given he is set to star in a string of follow-up projects, most notably Martin Scorsese’s “The Killer of the Flower Moon” with Robert de Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, “Brothers” with Glenn Close and Peter Dinklage. Twitter was abuzz when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson retweeted a short clip of Fraser tearing up during the standing ovation at Venice, saying the support for his brother makes him so happy and that he will root for his success. Enthusiastic fans have reacted to the trailer by saying they are all rooting for Fraser. Another user commented that Fraser definitely deserves an Oscar for his performance.
If the minute-long trailer is any indication, “The Whale” could very well mark Fraser’s first Academy Award nomination. He has a lot of positive media coverage surrounding the performance, and given the overwhelming audience sympathy over his unfortunate past, he is poised to strike a safe place in the race for the Best Actor. Darren Aronofsky’s track record of directing award-worthy performances also works in his favor. Ellen Burstyn almost won Best Actress in a Leading Role for “Requiem for a Dream”; Mickey Rourke was nominated for Best Actor and Marisa Tomei for Best Supporting Actress in “The Wrestler”; and for her performance in “Black Swan,” it was Natalie Portman won the Academy Award for Best Actress; more than a decade ago. Aronofsky’s last release, “Mother!”, divided critics, and through “The Whale,” even he will be entering the awards race with strong momentum.
Produced by Protozoa Picture, “The Whale” was shot by Aronofsky regular Matthew Libatuque, and it will be released by A24 on December 9. Let us wait and watch how the anticipation leads up to the release and whether the film lives up to its promise.