January 10, 2023 – Remember that sad movie, “Leaving Las Vegas,” about a man (played by Nicholas Cage) who drinks himself to death on purpose? “The Whale” is like that, only better, and sadder. Cage, by the way, won an Oscar for that performance in 1996, and Brendan Fraser could easily win one this year for his great performance in this 2022 film.
Fraser (“Journey to the Center of the Earth”) stars in this film as Charlie, a morbidly obese man who teaches internet college writing classes from his apartment. He lives reclusively, ordering pizza deliveries and never leaves his apartment. His only visitors are his friend, Liz (played by Hong Chau of “Downsizing”) and a missionary, Thomas (Ty Simpkins of “Jurassic World”). Liz is a nurse, who takes care of Charlie.
Liz tells Charlie that he will die soon if he is not hospitalized for his worsening condition, but Charlie refuses. He has his own reasons for refusing to go to the hospital, which are revealed during the course of the movie. Charlie's health started declining after the death of his partner, Alan.
Thomas shows up one day at Charlie's door when Charlie needs help, and helps him. This gives Thomas the idea that God wants him to save Charlie's soul. Liz tries to get Thomas to leave Charlie alone. When he continues to hang around, she explains why she wants him to leave.
It turns out that Liz is Alan's brother. She and her family have experience with the New Life Church, a cult that Thomas belongs to. She blames this cult for Alan's death. Thomas is not dissuaded, however, and continues to hang around.
One of the reasons Thomas hangs around is Charlie's young daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink of “Dear Zoe”) who is very smart and pretty. Charlie has been estranged from Ellie, but wants to reconnect. He promises her money, and to help her with her school work if she will spend time with him.
Ellie, who is a high school senior, is very angry with Charlie, because he left her and her mother, Mary (Samantha Morton of “She Said”) when Ellie was only eight years old. Ellie has been bitter ever since. She says she hates everyone. Charlie tries desperately to help her break through this anger. It is all part of Charlie's desperate end game.
Charlie knows he is about to die. He feels that his life has been a failure, but he still has hope that he can leave one good thing behind. His actions are all part of this final plan. Nobody believes him, but he has thought it through.
Brendan Fraser gives an Oscar-worthy performance in this film. His face, despite a lot of body fat prosthetics, is very expressive, revealing a tortured, but hopeful soul. Sadie Sink gives a great performance as the angry, abandoned child, determined to strike back at everyone.
Samantha Morton gives a great performance as well as Charlie's ex-wife whose hatred has cooled over the years. She has now come to understand him a bit better. Thomas is the odd man out. Childlike, he thinks he has the solution to the problems faced by Charlie, Ellie and Liz, but he doesn't understand them at all, even in theory. Thomas has his own, far simpler, problems.
This is a very sad story, of course, much like “Leaving Las Vegas” was, but there is also an element of hope in it. While Charlie seems determined not to extend his own life, he wants his death to have a positive outcome, by leaving something good behind. His dream, his goal, his plan is for Ellie to have a good life, and to reach her potential as a writer.
The title of the film refers to the American classic novel, “Moby Dick,” by Herman Melville. An essay written on the novel is referred to often in the movie. This essay represents inspiration and hope for Charlie.
This movie further bolsters director Darren Aranofsky's reputation as one of America's premier directors. The screenplay, by Samuel D. Hunter, is an adaptation of his own award-winning play of the same name. Like a play, the movie takes place almost entirely in Charlie's living room, yet, it doesn't seem confining. By confining the action to a single set, the drama of Charlie's loneliness and sadness is concentrated. This film rates an A.
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