Curse of the daddy helps Brendan claim his place among the heavyweights

Will Ferris
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The Whale (15, 117 minutes)

In a glorious return to the big screen, Hollywood’s forgotten man, Brendan Fraser, gives a performance that will not only go down in history as his best, but as one of those defining moments in cinema for those of us eager enough to be on the lookout.

The art of acting is dressing up and pretending to be someone else – something a lot of critics seem to be forgetting these woke days, which is very frustrating given The Whale is being accused of “fatphobia” – which, in itself, is a rather demeaning turn of phrase.

Anyone who really believes this has completely misunderstood director Darren Aronofsky’s film. But then again, it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve missed the point of his work.

Based on Samuel D. Hunter’s stage play, the story follows the final days of a grieving, reclusive man named Charlie (Fraser), who weighs 600 pounds, is suffering from congestive heart failure and whose only forms of social interaction are through his friend turned carer Liz (Hong Chau) and the online literature classes he teaches, constantly disappointed by the lack of creativity his students show.

To hide his appearance, he always keeps the webcam switched off. As he comes to terms with his inevitable fate, Charlie reaches out to his estranged daughter Ellie (Stranger Thing star Sadie Sink) and is shocked to discover her behaviour and career prospects are spiraling out of control.

Determined to make things right, he offers to help her graduate in exchange for her time. But things, as normal, do not work out as planned and with such little time left, Charlie’s attempts to heal his family bring bad memories flooding back amid his worsening condition.

The performances are excellent. Each one is, in its own special way, award worthy. Fraser is heart–wrenchingly brilliant. Every word spoken and every look given brings an overwhelming tidal wave of emotion. His Charlie is a reminder to us all that no matter how you look, everyone is human. He teaches us the importance of basic respect and emotional recognition towards the vulnerable.

There are hundreds of thousands of Charlie’s and Ellie’s out there, passing us each and every day. Lost people who need a guiding light. Warm hearts who need a kind word.

There’s also a fleeting appearance from Samantha Morton as Mary, Charlie’s ex-wife, providing perhaps the most important scene in the film – two seperated, damaged parents debating whether they’ve done enough to care for their child whilst trying to come to terms with each other’s predicaments.

The difference is, Charlie may have given up on life but not his daughter. It’s his final wish to remind her of how special and loved she is. If not by anyone else, at least him.

Aronofsky gets a lot of slack for his work, but I’ll happily hold my hand up and suggest he’s one of the most thought provoking directors of our time. He doesn’t make films for the fun of it, he deals in harsh realities. He finds taboos and pushes them into the limelight for us all to confront. Requiem for a Dream was about addiction. Black Swan – one of my favourite films – was about mental illness and perfection. Mother! was…well, it was something. The Whale, his tamest film so far, strongly focuses on the importance of empathy, kindness and grief.

I would go as far as to say it’s an incredibly accurate interpretation of grief. Something I haven’t seen on screen for a long time. This one really hits the bullseye.

The emotional pull is difficult to explain. It’s even hard to call it a “good” film because it’s more of an experience. You are watching the slow, painful demise of a good man trying to fix the damage of his own making. It’s exceptionally poignant.

The style is very stage-like and its one location setting works in its favour, bringing a perfect level of intimacy to the sequence of events. Filmed in 4:3 aspect ratio, Charlie’s flat becomes a form of prison built to keep himself locked away, surrounded by bad memories as a self-inflicted punishment.

When outsiders begin to infiltrate his safe space, it forces him to face up to the big wide world again after years of isolation. That’s not an easy thing to do!

It finishes rather abruptly. But then, I suppose for all of us, the end is like that, for better or worse.

Will Brendan Fraser get the Oscar? There’s little doubt of it in my mind. Boy does he deserve it.

RATING: 9/10