Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is morbidly obese. It weighs nearly 300 pounds and every movement costs him a superhuman effort. His home is littered with handles and cables, which help him lie down in bed, wash or just stand up. He uses a walker to walk but spends most of the day sitting on the sofa.
Charlie is an English literature teacher who teaches classes from home, in video chat, pretending that his computer’s camera is not working to hide his appearance. To the students, engaged in writing themes and term papers, he tries to teach honesty, above all stylistic traits. His days are milled with meals, television programs, visits from a nurse friend who tries unsuccessfully to convince him to hospitalize.
Aware that his days are winding down, Charlie tries to rebuild his relationship with his daughter Ellie (there Sadie Sink from Stranger Things), a rebellious, intractable teenager who pours contempt and resentment on him for having abandoned her and her mother over ten years earlier, for the sake of one of his students.
The cinema of Darren Aronofsky (The black Swan, Requiem for a Dream) has always been broken in two: on the one hand the maximum systems, the fantasy allegories, an outsized look at the service of colossal ambitions (The Fountain, Mother!), on the other the provincial ballads, the poetics of the losers and the elegy of defeat. The paradox is that, just like in The Wrestlerit is in this second version, closed in two rooms, that his cinema finds a grandiose epic vein, a vein that in films such as Noah instead it is completely missing.
And just like in The Wrestler, The Whale tells about a broken man, adrift, struggling with self-shame as he tries to reconnect with his daughter. Brendan Fraser, who had to wear over 130 kilos of prosthetics for the role and whose personal history vaguely echoes the condition of the protagonist, plays most of the film in one room, doing a job of exceptional expressiveness. In Charlie they coexist an immense and ungainly body, and a very sensitive soulwith respect to which the feelings of guilt and pains of the past, the same family fracture, have not affected the trust in others and the belief that healing tools are hidden in thought and word, the greatest possibility of reconnection with the world.
Like a monster hidden in a cave, which when you stani reveals itself as the most defenseless of creatures, the protagonist of The Whale – deformed, exhausted, disarmed by his past, clinging to his present – he is together aesthetic, narrative and moral issue. Many burdens of the conservative gaze coexist in him: the weight, homosexuality, the stigma of betrayal in the bourgeois family. The recomposition of ours “disgust” (“Do I disgust you?”Charlie often asks his visitors, all apparently eager to “save him”), passes by acceptance of his freedom to live, love and die, beyond any social framework, beyond any shared norm, beyond any appearance.
The little miracle of the film, which is partly by Aronosfky and very much by Fraser (as well as by the author of the text Samuel D. Hunter) is to make that disgust, that refusal, the material of a very strong empathic bond, dissolving all reservations in a deep, lasting emotion.
Photo: Protozoa Pictures
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