The Whale: A Tale of Struggle

Isabella Palacio

Making its debut in theaters in December of 2022, A24’s The Whale racked up just over $10 million. The independent film company is renowned for creating complex characters and tackling challenging narratives while producing massive hits like HBO’s Euphoria, horror films like Hereditary and X, and coming-of-age tales like Lady Bird. Naturally, The Whale garnered much attention amongst film critics and moviegoers alike, but also faced controversy following its initial debut. 

The Whale stars Charlie (Brendan Fraser), a 600-pound gay college English professor who is on the verge of death but refuses to seek medical treatment. His dying wish is to reconnect with his teenage daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink) whom he hasn’t seen for eight years. Throughout the film, viewers are placed in the center of Charlie’s living room, forced to wallow through his weakening vitality found in each crunch of a chocolate candy bar, and every groan echoed through the apartment walls, as he attempts to lift himself from the depths of the sofa. 

The film contains a graphic nature, as viewers stand by Charlie’s binge-eating episodes, self-isolation, and struggle to connect with Ellie. She is on the verge of flunking, bullies others online for self-fulfillment, and blames Charlie for leaving her due to his secret affair with another man. Rather than attempting to change Ellie’s outlook on life, Charlie is compliant with her behavior. The most disturbing fact is that Charlie is aware that his life is coming to an end, yet he does not do anything to prevent it. 

There is no doubt that Fraser offers an emotional complexity to his character, portraying the challenges of navigating parenthood, sexuality, and grief. However, despite his captivating performance, many critics call out the film for being fatphobic. In the film, Fraser wears a 300-pound fat suit. Several argue that it would’ve been more appropriate to hire an obese actor, while others say that it would be difficult to find someone in the industry who matched Charlie’s physique. Additionally, Fraser identifies as heterosexual, while a core part of Charlie’s story is his identity as a gay man. The film adds to the ongoing debate of whether or not filmmakers should hire LGBTQ+ actors for such roles. 

Such criticisms have left viewers wondering whether or not Fraser’s performance is dehumanizing towards people struggling with obesity, and whether or not it was right for him to have told a story so different from his own. Regardless of its criticism, it is no doubt that The Whale has sparked important conversations about varying stories and how they can be more accurately portrayed in the media. 

As for Fraser, his performance in The Whale was bone-chilling and truly captivating across all audiences. Some may refer to his performance as the best of the year.