THE WHALE (TIFF 2022) – Review by Ulkar Alakbarova

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Each person goes through grief differently. Some just go on with the celebration of life; some live in the pain of loss for longer. Either way, it’s sad and heartbreaking to lose someone. Darren Aronofsky is a filmmaker whose films I personally do not watch more than once. I had had enough with The Requiem for a Dream, after which I promised myself not to watch it ever again. Not because it was bad. It was exceptional and so real, I could not pull myself out of the silver screen. Now, with The Whale, the logical question is, is it going to be as heartbreaking as the master’s previously mentioned work or will it be just acceptable and not so difficult to watch. My answer to this is – it’s a whole different level of filmmaking, storytelling and acting we don’t get to see often.

Charlie (Brendan Fraser) spends his time at home, doing online classes with the webcam off, writing essays and eating a lot. He is suicidal, but instead of doing something quickly to end his life, he prolongs his torture through obesity – eating himself to death. His weight is 600 pounds but the burden of loss, grief and pain is much heavier. His friend and nurse Liz (Hong Chau) cannot make him to check himself into a hospital. His estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sunk) wants nothing to do with him, but agrees to his offer to improve her score for a handsome reward. The life of the man takes place in one room and within a week we learn who he is, what happened and why he no longer wants to live.

It will be an understatement to say I have seen nothing like this in my entire life. The moment the film starts, we find Charlie doing online classes with the cam off. One of his clients points out that maybe because he is so big, that’s why he hides in the dark. Charlie had a different reason. Sure, he became heavily overweight due to the consumption of food. But the reason behind that is Charlie lost his partner and he blames himself for his death. He loved him so much, his body changed significantly. He also does not have money to pay his medical bills, because insurance is not an option for him. All that adds to his existing problem with health and lack of desire to seek help.

Brendan Fraser delivers a career-defining performance. I can assure you, you won’t even believe it could be possible. It’s absolutely phenomenal to watch how Fraser juggles from one emotional storm to another with ease, as if he was Charlie himself. Whether it’s delivering the lines, facial expression or the tears coming down, it’s not just about one scene – it is the film as a whole. The entire body of work is exceptional, brilliant, and mind-blowing. The concept itself is gut-wrenching. Darren Aronofsky does what he knows best – capturing the portrait of a broken human being and presenting it in the most devastating way. For that, he just needed to find the right actor and, Brendan Fraser was the chosen one. Don’t be surprised when he begins to grab one award after another because no one can match his level of acting this year – that’s what we all must be certain of.

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Ulkar Alakbarova

Ulkar Alakbarova has been writing about movies since childhood. She loves black-and-white cinema. She worked as an independent film journalist in Azerbaijan. Starting in 2013, she has worked as a Toronto-based film critic/interviewer. She is a founder of and regularly covers major film festivals, such as TIFF, Fantasia Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Hot Docs and Sundance.