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The Whale

Farhad Dalal
Farhad Dalal
4.5 Star popcorn reviewss


Onto the next release of the weekend and it was a triple whammy for me at the cinemas this weekend. It started with Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat then Faraaz and the final theatrical outing being the Brendan Fraser starrer The Whale. Quite honestly, this was that one English film that I was waiting for a very long time. The wait was from the last few months of 2022 and it was finally in the 1st week of February that its theatrical release did present me with an opportunity. The shows were limited and so zeroing on a timing was a task but all said and done, I happened to grab my chance.

Obesity across the globe is a major issue. Almost 13% of the adults across the globe are obese which is an alarming issue. I was having a chat with my Doctor friend Randhir after the film(yes, we watched the film together) and the question that I did pose to him was what triggers obesity. His answer was almost shocking for me – depression and anxiety(besides being hormonal at times). Our current generation is probably the most resilient in terms of bottling mountains of pain within ourselves. Each day, no matter how hard it is, we present ourselves to the world with a smile, pretending to be happy whereas deep down inside, we are nothing but sad creatures going through the motions.

Depression, a term loosely used, is indeed an issue with our generation and the first step of curing it is to embrace and accept it. If you do know someone going through this then please help that person and not just ask him/her to ‘Not Think Too Much’. Having being a survivor myself(am I out already? I Am Unsure), it takes a lot of courage to pull yourself up day in and day out, so please be kind to people around you. You do not know what mountains of pain, he/she may be carrying. With that extended rant, getting back to the review, is The Whale worth a watch, lets find out.

Story & Screenplay(Spoilers + Ending Explained)

Loosely based on a play by Samuel D Hunter, The Whale follows the story of a recluse teacher suffering from obesity and depression who wishes to reconcile with his daughter during his final days. The story is instantly heart touching and extremely emotional to begin with on paper. I definitely knew what I was getting into but seldom did I predict the kind of impact that it would have at the end of it. And a large credit needs to go to the screenplay standing at a shade under 2 hours that will leave you trembling and emotional by the end of it. This section shall contain spoilers.

The drama is essentially a haunting character study of a person suffering from obesity. So you are introduced to the protagonist named Charlie whom we are told is divorced and separated from his daughter. He is a loner given that his gay partner whom he had really loved, is now not with him. The mountain of depression translates into gluttony which was his road to obesity. One of the main things for an obese person would be to start losing respect for himself thus resulting in an inferiority complex. His biggest worry would be of being perceived as ‘ugly’ to the world. This emotion was so well captured here in three separate instances. The first being that while lecturing his students over an online meeting, he was the only one to keep his video camera switched off. In the second instance, he wouldn’t come face to face with a pizza delivery guy who would always place the pizza box at his doorstep as a daily routine. And the third instance being that he repeatedly asked a few people around him whether they find him ugly and disgusting.

The drama at its core is about redemption. Charlie may not be staying with his ex-wife and daughter but he always wished to be a good father. And so in his final days, he wished to accumulate a good amount of money for his daughter’s future as opposed to taking treatment for his obesity. Charlie is often visited by Thomas, a missionary who wishes to help Charlie through the acceptance of religion. For Thomas, the redemption was simply to be able to go home and be accepted by his parents for who he was. And I did like how the drama had religion as a subplot as well. The relevant questions have been placed throughout the screenplay as to how long can a person keep ‘faith’ in religion and upto what extent can religion help a person through his sins and sorrows. In a moving scene, Charlie does get angry on Thomas for him trying to convince him on the same by advising him to go home.

The relationship between Charlie and his daughter Ellie is shown to be one-sided. Ellie is shown to visit Charlie’s apartment only so that she could get help for her homework. The relationship did stem from the fact that she was too young to understand the conflicts that Charlie was facing when he had opted to leave them. The LGBTQ angle was handled with utmost sensitivity here. It was Ellie who was staying with her mother and her thoughts were reflective of her mother’s personality who did not completely forgive to Charlie despite him not being well. But from Charlie’s perspective, he continued to be hopeful and positive, something that was driving his reclusive and depressed life otherwise. It was his love for his daughter that prompted him to lie to his nurse Liz who repeatedly asked him to get admitted to the hospital, by citing that he had ‘no money’.

The events leading to the final act is filled with metaphors. Charlie did have fights with Thomas, Liz and Ellie in three separate instances. Notice the weather outside the door in each of the three instances(on the same day, the film being divided in the days of the week). It was shown to be raining signifying the turmoil that Charlie was going through. His depressed gluttony made him first come face to face with the Pizza Delivery guy who did look at him with disdain(probably because he hadn’t expected him to be ‘ugly’). In a moment of acceptance, for his final lecture, Charlie also does switch on his video camera that did show his acceptance with his current state and fate(a trigger of his picture put up on social media by Ellie in what was an honest opinion by her as per him). The acceptance of being depressed was clearly long overdue post the loss of his partner and family. He does imagine himself to be free during his happier times on the beach.

But it is the final act that did leave me trembling and weeping. In a moving scene, Charlie who is on his last breath asks Ellie(who did arrive disgruntled due to her homework being compromised by Charlie), to recite the interpretation of an essay that she wrote in her 8th grade on Moby Dick. As per him, it was the most honest she had ever been in her life. And it is at this point that the significance of The Whale is clear. Charlie sees himself as The Whale who has struggled to fight on from the captain Ishamael(who is a representation of the people around him whose prime goal was to ‘get’ the whale or in his case take care of him). In a final attempt(shown after several failed attempts) of standing up on his feet, he moves towards his daughter who finally is able to break her shield by calling him ‘Daddy’ for the first time in several years! Yes, Charlie did die but he died a happy man, represented by the weather outside as ‘sunny’. Finally, he was liberated from his body and free from all the depression and pain.

On a side note, the medical detailing was spot on(as confirmed by Randhir) which did show the level of writing here. Overall, the screenplay was a writing masterclass of the highest order that did leave me trembling and pondering about the film for quite sometime after it had ended. A feeling of being hollow was experienced by me after a very long time, so much so that I couldn’t utter a word for a good 10 minutes after the film. Beautifully aching was the word!

Dialogues, Music & Direction

The dialogues are conversational but really profound and impactful. The BGM is beautifully melancholic, after embracing you with sadness with every passing scene. The cinematography did surround you with frames and metaphors that did have a lasting impact in terms of the emotions that it wished to present. Director Darren Aronofsky, the man behind great films like The Wrestler and Black Swan, has handled the subject with sensitivity(and a pinch of humour) by keeping all the core emotions in check. It was his sheer brilliance to the fore that had most of us sit through the rolling credits quietly, almost having a moment for ourselves which was reflective of the drama in so many ways. The direction is absolutely brilliant!


The performances by the ensemble cast are outstanding. Samantha Morton as Mary has her moments to shine. Ty Simpkins as Thomas, a vulnerable character going through his own fight with depression silently, is wonderfully restrained. Hong Chau as Liz is sincere and endearing in a character that has a good amount of grief within her. Sadie Sink as Ellie is fabulous and does an incredible job. But it is Brendan Fraser in a performance of a lifetime that shines as Charlie. It was a painfully brilliant performance, right from his mannerisms to the emotions that he brings to the table. It was an acting masterclass, a performance that does stay with you long after it has ended.


The Whale is deeply moving and haunting portrayal of obesity and depression that comes with my highest recommendation. It is sad that this film is not nominated for the Oscars under the Best Picture Category. Available in a theatre near you.

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