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The Whale

Brendan Fraser won Best Actor at this year‘s Academy Awards for his role as Charlie, a dying, immobile, overweight English teacher.


There are movies that move me despite me not liking them. I didn‘t like much about THE WHALE, but it did move me. A few sentences that the daughter of the protagonist, the dying, immobile, overweight English teacher Charlie (Brendan Fraser), scribbles down for an assignment: “this apartment smells. This notebook is retarded. I hate everyone.“ That has power. Charlie counts the syllables, recognizes that it‘s a haiku, and is happy. But what else?

THE WHALE is a chamber piece in the classic Chekhov style and the form doesn‘t smell any better than Charlie‘s apartment. There are nasty, predictable motifs. Moby Dick is quoted, because Charlie is fat and sad. A young missionary appears, because it‘s also about God and religion and charity, of course. It‘s all incredibly annoying. The director Darren Aronofsky, one of the most pompous Hollywood directors, makes films that must at least contain (old-fashioned) art theory or universal wisdoms. The way in which the camera takes in Charlie and keeps showing him slobbering while eating disgusting things is geared towards shock and disgust, however the camera‘s gaze is far more hideous than Charlie‘s body or a bucket full of fried chicken. Incidentally, the chicken bucket is one of the most horrible cliches about fat people in the US. Gabourey Sidibe had to stuff herself with one in the Oscar winning PRECIOUS too.

The material that Charlie teaches in an online creative writing course is an arbitrary version of the Beat Generation motto: write something honest, then it‘ll also be good. This was always wrong-minded. If you‘re just writing something honest, it can be just as bad as any other idea, opinion, or conviction that you haven‘t thought about much. Honest writing is the beginning. Then the work begins. Here, this wisdom is the answer to everything and part of the great wisdom that Charlie and the film proclaim: people are great. We have to be kind to each other. You can unreservedly agree with the second part, and that‘s surely the reason why the film was – relatively – successful in the US. In recent years it has become more clear than ever that many people aren‘t great, just the opposite. And then a dying, fat, greasy, sad, but friendly man claims that everything is good, that the angriest idiots, like his caustic, angry daughter, are great.

This is moving because it would be so nice if that were the case. The friend, who tries to help even though she knows Charlie can‘t be saved, is also moving. The world is lost, but it could help to be kind. This isn‘t so far removed from the message of the formally very different Oscar favorite EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE. Brendan Fraser‘s Oscar for Best Actor belongs to a series of many other actors who have been awarded for playing the blind, the deaf, or the mentally disabled. But he does do his job very convincingly.


Translation: Elinor Lewy


USA 2022, 109 min
Genre: Drama
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Author: Samuel D. Hunter
DOP: Matthew Libatique
Montage: Andrew Weisblum
Music: Rob Simonsen
Distributor: STUDIOCANAL
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Samantha Morton, Ty Simpkins
FSK: 16
Release: 27.04.2023



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