Why Is ‘The Whale’ Even a Horror Film?



From the primary minute, The Whale is suffused with dread. The director Darren Aronofsky has lengthy specialised in that sort of environment; even when engaged on the tiniest scale, he conjures mounting horror out of the mundane. His newest work intently echoes prior movies comparable to π and Requiem for a Dream, each claustrophobic epics with thudding scores and dreary outlooks. However in The Whale, which is tailored from Samuel D. Hunter’s play, the sinister temper instantly feels at odds with the topic. The protagonist, Charlie (performed by Brendan Fraser), is totally housebound and on the point of loss of life due to excessive binge-eating. His confinement is abject, however the supply of his ache is deeply relatable: grief.

Charlie has been in a extreme depressive state because the lack of his accomplice. Unable to maintain himself, he’s turn into a irritating determine to mates, household, and strangers alike, all of whom maintain dropping by to have large, significant chats with him. He refuses to hunt medical care regardless of being in apparent bodily misery; as a substitute, he permits solely his pal Liz (Hong Chau), a nurse, to take his blood stress at residence, whereas she frets over her incapability to do extra for him. He’s nearly totally disconnected from his ex-wife, Mary (Samantha Morton), and teenage daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink). (He does, nevertheless, attempt to bridge the hole with Ellie by promising to do her homework.) By the point The Whale begins, Charlie has reached some extent the place reversing the decline of his well being is not possible.

The state of affairs is rendered as each horrifying and pitiable, particularly as a result of Charlie, though resigned to the boundaries of his house, nonetheless does crave some human interplay. Aronofsky, whose oeuvre of alienation-focused psychodramas additionally contains Black Swan and Mom, indulges his penchant for the foreboding—however then refuses to ever change it up. Some scenes attempt to current Charlie as sympathetic and complicated, and Fraser’s efficiency, delivered by multilayered make-up and prosthetics, nonetheless manages to be essentially the most direct a part of the film. (It’s additionally essentially the most controversial.) Sadly, nearly every little thing else is garishly grim, a spectacle of distress that shows its central character like a zoo animal.

The story’s overly exact construction bears a number of the blame for its relentlessness. Hunter himself tailored the script from his unique play, and the movie intently follows simple transitions, peeling again the thriller of Charlie’s state of affairs by a sequence of encounters. First, a spiritual missionary referred to as Thomas (Ty Simpkins) knocks on Charlie’s door and finds him in the midst of a cardiac occasion; Thomas, a stranger, retains returning as a result of he’s decided to save lots of this doomed man’s soul. Subsequent, there’s Liz, who berates Charlie for his overeating whereas additionally offering him with meatball subs each time she comes by—a passive witness to his binges (that are all the time depicted with crude menace and Rob Simonsen’s overwhelming rating).

Then comes Ellie, who has not seen her father in years and regards him with disgust, largely as a result of he’s been so absent from her life. Charlie vainly struggles to free his daughter from her nihilistic perspective on life. In the meantime, she and Thomas type an odd connection and begin digging into Charlie’s previous, attempting to know the complete circumstances of the loss of life that has wrecked him. However revealing the how and why of Charlie’s deep unhappiness is simply not as psychologically intricate as Hunter or Aronofsky appear to suppose it’s—and apart from, extra time is spent gawking at Charlie’s bodily pressure.

The issue is that Aronofsky is transfixed by Charlie in all of the mistaken methods, positioning him as a strolling home of horrors. That exhibitionist gaze clashes awkwardly with the story’s supposed humanism and Charlie’s insistence that “persons are wonderful” even once they’re being merciless. Fraser makes a strong effort to undertaking that tenderness: He doesn’t shrink back from exposing Charlie’s self-destructive streak, however he foregrounds the character’s abiding love for others, if not for himself.

I by no means felt that nuance from Aronofsky’s mise-en-scène. He turns the house right into a darkish, bitter sanctum, and sometimes exhibits the slowly shuffling Charlie from behind and under, in order that the character seems to be a looming monster. I’m not against physique horror, however the style is greatest suited to vulgar ends. The Whale is presenting itself as one thing noble and, in the end, uplifting, nevertheless it simply can’t make that sale. In the long run, the undertaking falls prey to the identical entice as Charlie’s judgmental guests do: seeing solely a logo the place they may have seen an individual.



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