On Friday night, peg, rtb, and I saw The Whale at a theater near Penn Station. It was one of the films that I wanted to see before the Oscars plus I have always been a big Brendan Fraser fan but I was willing to wait until it came to cable or was streaming but I have also been avoiding reviews and criticisms, so I decided now was better than later and I am glad that I went.
The few conversations I have read or heard about the movie revolve around the fact that Brendan Fraser (Charlie) plays an obese man. But the movie is not about that. The movie is about grief. Charlie is stuck in his apartment – stuck because of his weight but also stuck because of his grief. Did agoraphobia come before the weight gain or after? Do not know. But Charlie knows what he needs to do to possibly survive and he refuses to do it. Why? Grief.
The film is based on an off-Broadway play by Samuel D Hunter, who also wrote the screenplay. Director Darren Aronofsky could have opened up the movie but instead it all takes place in Charlie’s apartment. Later in the film when there is one shot (maybe two shots) outside which lets us view the apartment complex where Charlie lives, it feels uncomfortable. I do not want to be outside any more than he does because I have been as trapped inside the apartment as Charlie is and now it feels wrong to be outside.
Four other people visit Charlie and each one is in as much pain as he is. And all of them are grieving at least one loss if not more. While Charlie deals with his grief by eating, the others each deal with their grief by either bullying (Ellie), caregiving/caretaking (Liz), drinking (Mary), or proselytizing/lying (Thomas).
The movie takes place during a week in Charlie’s life and the only regular visitor before we come into his life is Liz (Hong Chau). She is a nurse and she badgers him about taking care of himself, while at the same time buying him the meatball heroes that he eats two for one meal and then almost chokes on while eating. Ellie (Sadie Sink) is summoned by Charlie, who hopes to make up for the time he has not spent with her. Thomas (Ty Simpkins) and Mary (Samantha Morton) are surprise visitors.
There is a moment when Charlie does a small act that is common to many people grieving a lost partner and that is when I started crying. Then I cried for the rest of the movie and then I cried on the railroad home.
All the actors did a wonderful job of moving quickly through the whiplash of pain and anger that comes with grief. Even Charlie, who is so optimistic, has a moment of deep anger.
If your grief – especially the grief of losing a partner – is very new and raw, I recommend waiting to see this movie and giving yourself time. Because even though my grief is not new, feeling and moving through it with these characters was almost too much to bear. Despite that I am very glad I experienced it.
By Carene Lydia Lopez