Brendan Fraser Deserves an Oscar for ‘The Whale.’ He Also Deserves a Better Movie
Charlie is 600 Pound. That’s the first thing you notice about him; that’s the first thing to notice about him. He’s always been a big guy, he says, but he’s “let it get out of hand.” In the zooms where Charlie teaches online English courses – he’s a professor – his voice always comes out of a black square, the video is permanently disabled, the word “teacher” is the only image his students associate with him.
But when we first see Charlie The whale, We can watch director Darren Aronofsky’s 2012 adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s award-winning play Everyone of him: a hulking man with a bloated and swollen body, sitting deep in the corner of his couch, masturbating furiously to online porn. Severe chest pains interrupt his efforts. Only the arrival of a random stranger, who happens to find the apartment door unlocked, saves his life.
This stranger, Thomas (Ty Simpkins), is a newly minted missionary in his 20s from a local church that preaches about the end times. He believes that God brought him to this apartment for a reason. (If you view plot convenience as a form of providence, then yes, sure.) Soon, Charlie’s best friend, a nurse named Liz (the great Hong Chau), arrives to help. She is wary of the boy as she has a past connection to the church. Just like the person who is sweating and wheezing on the sofa and who needs a walker to get around. Later, Charlie’s daughter, Ellie (stranger thingsSadie Sink), a headstrong teenager, shows up to berate her father. So did his ex-wife Mary (Samantha Morton). But these characters are just satellites. They are there to orbit the figure at the center of it all. Or maybe, to put it more precisely, the star that plays this centrifugal force.
Even if you don’t follow Oscar predictions like the showbiz soap opera that it is, you’ve probably heard about how incredible Brendan Fraser is in the role of Charlie. The hype about performance is well deserved. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s one of the best if not the best work of his career and the kind of screen spin that taps into your long relationship with an actor while revealing aspects of her talent you never knew you had. You may also know that he’s been through some tough times, and the emotional response to his return to premiere screenings, red carpets, etc. on that level has been genuine. Fraser tends to dismiss talks of a comeback, but that’s exactly what it is The whale gives him a present. And there are so many moments where you see the actor in this part and you want to get back behind this ponderous, melodramatic, wayward being mixed gas a character study just for him.
Fraser wears a massive fatsuit and is often paralyzed with storylines and dialogue that didn’t fare well in translation from stage to screen (although Hunter adapted his own work), Fraser still manages to convey the humanity in this character, even if the film itself does everything it can undermine its efforts. It’s the way he uses his eyes and facial expression to convey sadness, fear, self-loathing, self-pity, hope, despair, spiritual longing, a false sense of exhilaration, and a genuine sense of joy. The way his eyes dart around when he can’t reach a key that’s dropped on the floor. The burst of giggles that accompanies the discovery that his cynical daughter has turned her misanthropy into a haiku. Three fights are happening at the same time as you watch The whale: Charlie’s attempt to halfheartedly overcome his physical condition before his heart fails completely; Fraser struggles to let this man’s hurt soul shine through; and you suppress your own anger at the film enough to appreciate the fruits of its labor.
Because there’s a big sensitivity issue here, where the way the actor and the film itself sees Charlie sometimes seem completely opposite. One could never accuse Darren Aronofsky of being an unimaginative or risk-averse filmmaker; He’s one of those writers whose failures are often more interesting than the successes of some other directors. This is one artist who isn’t afraid to swing for the fences and suffer the occasional strike – say what you will Mother!, it took guts (and some lower, swinging appendages) to do something so conceptually daring. But also already Requiem for a Dream (2000) felt that any existing sensibility might be drowned out by a prioritizing style Storm and stress. The need to blind you or force you into submission sometimes overwhelmed the procedure. He would rely on a strong performance to carry viewers through all that feel-bad flash.
Fraser is a dream match in that regard, and yet The whale seems hell-bent on getting you to see Charlie as grotesque. There’s something outrageous about the way it keeps framing him, how it seems to fetishize almost every roll of his meat and gets the sound of his greasy roasting on roast chicken so high in the sound mix. What this man experiences – a terrible feeling of shame that turns into self-destruction – is not pretty. But the film seems a little too enthusiastic about wallowing in its own ugliness. This fateful score by Rob Simonsen rubs the desperation even deeper in your face. For every ray of humanity’s sun that Fraser allows to shine through that soul, the film conjures up half a dozen dark clouds to try to dampen it.
One thinks of the sheer feat of making a viewer feel something – anything — for this person, alongside pity or, worse, superiority, is a responsibility that seems to fall squarely on the prosthetic-laden shoulders of their leadership. (To be fair, he’s joined by Chau, who once again transforms a supporting role into something substantial and layered, but doesn’t overshadow it.) Fraser deserves all the accolades and accolades he gets for playing this broken man , finally getting his moment of salvation – whatever that moment borrows heavily from Aronofsky’s climax/coda combination Requiem. But he also deserves a better film in which he works so gracefully. The whale knows it has a dynamo at its core, but is still trying to prove to you that it is a substantive, significant statement. It cannot help but be crushed under its own symbolic and sensationalist weight.