The Whale, 2022.

February 13, 2023

It would be difficult to find in American film history a movie that deals so directly with so many delicate questions of contemporary America, including obesity, religion, homophobia, family breakdown, and health care.

The Whale is an American drama by director Darren Aronofsky, released in December of 2022. The main actor, Brendan Fraser,  has been nominated for the best actor category at the coming Oscars on march 12. The film draws from a play of the same title.



Charlie is an obese and reclusive teacher of English writing that is responsible for an online course where he can hide his obesity from his students by not presenting his image in the course’s interacting sessions.

Charlie is gay and previously had an affair with a student of his, eventually leaving his wife and daughter to live with him (the student).

His daughter has not forgiven him for his life choices but she still interacts with Charlie and visits him occasionally, but the encounters always come back to his daughter’s recriminations for leaving his family. At the end of the film, his former wife (now alcoholic) visits him for one last time, when Charlie’s numerous medical problems reach a final stage. Charlie has no health coverage and wants to keep his savings of 120,000 $ for his daughter. His only other regular visitor is the sister of his now-deceased student lover, and she frequently tells him to get medical help, which Charlies refuses to do.

The story ends with Charlie’s predictable death after some important feelings and sentiments were at least pronounced, if not really resolved.


The reviews of this film were mixed.

Some saw merit in the fact that the films addressed important and quite often neglected aspects of contemporary life, such as obesity, eating disorders, solitude, alcoholism, family breakups, religion, and healthcare. For others, it is precisely this abundance of subjects that may be too much to swallow at a time.

Others saw in the film a story on redemption, because of the fact there is always the opportunity to make du, to repair the past, and forgive, no matter the dark perspective.  

It is sometimes also seen as a story of resilience, as an obese and dying man is still looking to find hope and reconciliation, against all odds.



It is quite surprising to see, in a current American film, so many delicate subjects of American life addressed at the same time. Subjects that are, most of the time, not treated at all.

Quite intriguing indeed.

Some of this conundrum is explained by the fact that the film is based on a play (of the same name), and theater might be more conducive to the treatment of these delicate subjects on a fixed and unmoving decor, an environment that leads to intense exchanges of ideas.

But there is another element to explain attacking so many difficult subjects at the same time. It is an admittedly counterintuitive explanation.

It is as if it was easier to treat many delicate subjects than only one or two because the large number of them desensitizes each one from the malaise of dealing with it.

Each one of these delicate subjects, obesity, eating disorders, health care, alcoholism, social isolation, and family conflicts could be enough for one film, but, here, they are treated as an ensemble, a rare occurrence indeed. In a way, it is, in American cinema, a first.