The Whale Review: Brendan Fraser's return is a masterpiece

The Whale Review: Brendan Fraser’s return is a masterpiece

The whale, an elegant, majestic animal, but also synonymous with fear, inflicted and suffered. Established in the collective imagination as a metaphor of inner terror, a goal to be destroyed and a symbol of perpetual estrangement on the basis of classics such as Moby Dick, or Pinocchio in the Disney version, the whale moves in memory, engulfing everything, internalizing fears like bodies lost in the sea. Now that sense of frustration, and sweet misunderstanding that cloaks the image of the whale becomes film, pouring into every frame of The Whalenew film by Darren Aronofsky presented at the 79th edition of the Venice Film Festival. A work created and developed to tell the life of the individual, to rise to the voice of a universal pain, with an Oscar-winning Brendan Fraser.

Fill the hunger for pain

Charlie is a man who feeds on memory, feeding melancholy by gulping down food. The lack of a partner, the abandoned daughter and the glimpses of a life that seems to have dissipated like Coke thrown in the sink, are gaps that must be filled.

Pizza, sandwiches, sweets, every food is a brick with which to build one’s own corporeal fortress, a fort that crushes the soul, where the ephemeral satisfaction of a moment of happiness just tasted, soon gives way to the bitterness of loneliness. Charlie is the result of an authorial process, of writing and theatrical imagination by the playwright Samuel D. Hunter (here screenwriter of the opera) but the one who prostrates himself before us, sweaty, tired, yet sweet and eager for a hug , of a smile, is a real man, almost tangible. A transfiguration made possible by Darren Aronofsky’s camera, but above all the intense, unsettling and as painful as it is human performance by Brendan Fraser. The actor is not limited, or hidden, by the prosthetic shell of a body imprisoned by layers of fat, but rather, he proves capable of terrifying and striking his viewer by focusing on the strength of his gaze. His eyes become portals of emotions and unspoken, feelings capable of making their way despite the layers of fat. Because in The Whale only the body is blocked; the soul now flies, gets up lightly, waiting to free itself forever.

The claustrophobia of melancholy

Like its protagonist, the viewer also enters Charlie’s house, and stays there for a week. Outside it rains, a continuous storm rages, whose greyness and gloomy appearance reduplicates and continues in the rooms of a house cloaked in an ashy, cold and hazy photograph. There is a sense of claustrophobia surrounding Charlie, a sense of labored, slow, tired breathing, which Aronofsky manages to return without ever dwelling on the obsessive use of the wide angle, but rather on a skilful use of lenses and angled shots in a suffocating 4: 3 that compress everything, including Charlie. His is a soft and at the same time static direction; he observes, but never exaggerating, the faces of his characters, scrutinizing and revealing a hidden, repressed, eaten interiority.

His physique is so imposing that it cannot be shared with the characters who visit him in the space of a screen. Still, Liz (her partner Adam’s sister), daughter Ellie, God-fearing Thomas are closer than ever to Charlie. Theirs are indissoluble and at the same time precarious bonds, canvases woven with the power of Aronofsky’s camera which now brings them closer, now repels them. A harmony between looks, bodies and words, in a perfectly functioning carousel where nothing is left to chance but everything is damn moving and empathically impactful.

The weight of a word

The weight of The Whale it is a boulder that crushes the soul of the spectator; he takes it, destroys it, suffocating it and then freeing it. It will not be Noah (protagonist, this, of the controversial Noah by Aronofsky) but for Charlie his home is his arka refuge that saves him from the storm that falls around him, and whose external witnesses continue to visit him by establishing a bridge with an outsider that he can no longer access and whose gaze he fears.

For a man forced into stillness, the only strength at his disposal is that of the word. As a teacher of literature, he knows the emotional and creative weight behind each syllable, and in the height of his optimism, he also insinuates in every single letter a saving power, the same that he entrusts to his daughter, author of the comment to Moby Dick with which to avoid (or delay) a fatal heart attack, and proponent of Thomas’ homecoming. But no one saves anyone, and no one saves himself alone. Aware of being the author of the novel of his own defeat, Charlie also intends to be the promoter of his own redemption, in a last leap towards a fragment of life, to swallow, in one gulp, the last slice of happiness.


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