The Whale: a major heartache

The Whale: a major heartache

Content warning: This story contains spoilers for The Whale (2022)

Darren Aronofsky’s 2022 psychological drama The Whale had audience members walking out of movie theaters in tears. I could hear sniffling from across the room, further proving the emotional impact of the movie. 

The Whale left me reflecting on my own life and the way I treat others, along with how easy it is to judge others by how they present themselves. While this story was compelling, it was difficult to watch due to how close it hits to home for me.

The Whale is a heart-wrenching story about an English teacher, Charlie, who is grieving the loss of his late partner, Alan, while accepting the fact that he is dying of congestive heart failure. During this process he is making a huge effort into reconnecting with his teenage daughter, Ellie, who I find repulsive as a character. Her short and rude demeanor with her dad put a bad taste in my mouth for her. 

Sadie Sink played Ellie, and her acting made me want to be a better person because of how truly vile and disgusting she was. 

“You’re disgusting,” Ellie told her dad within the first few moments of screentime. After that bold and short line, I knew Sink was going to give a performance that would frustrate audiences. What made Ellie’s evil personality so much worse was how easily Charlie forgave her for insulting, drugging and dehumanizing him. She did not deserve the grace her dad gave her. How she treated her dad filled me with so much anger, I had never been so frustrated watching a movie before.

As the recurring references to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick appeared throughout the movie, it gave more volume to Sink’s character. Moby Dick is an 1851 novel telling the story of Captain Ahab’s quest to kill a white sperm whale while at sea. She relates to Captain Ahab, convincing himself that if she kills the whale her life will be much better, adding an understanding to her character’s development. 

Charlie, played by Brendan Fraser, offered the viewers a lively performance that came from the heart. Nearing the final moments of the movie, Charlie tells his daughter Ellie that she is the one good thing he has ever done with his life, bringing me to tears. 

Screenwriter Samuel D. Hunter told a story full of soul that filled audiences with so many emotions, going above and beyond to tell his characters’ stories. Hunter’s ability to relate characters to other characters in famous pieces of work adds depth to the story as a whole. 

The representation of religion is also key to understanding the characters’ backstories.  Preachers going door-to-door attempting to save people of sin added a meaningful dimension to the characters and plot. Thomas, a young minister from a church called New Life, kept showing up on Charlie’s doorstep in an attempt to save him from sin. The young minister’s inability to empathize with the harm his church has caused so many people felt accurate to how some ministers behave and treat people in the real world.

 Thomas showed resemblance to Paul Jennings Hill, a real life pastor who preached anti-abortion ideas and ended up taking the life of a doctor who performed abortions. This story of Hill reflects how religion showed up in the movie: some religious people speak against violence while committing acts of violence. 

The mentions of religion tie back to the central theme of the story: honesty and authenticity. Charlie actively encouraged his students and the people around him to be honest and genuine about their ideas. He never believed Thomas to be actual or authentic, as he would only recite God’s word onto people and offer no original ideas to those in need of help through Charlie’s cold attitude toward Thomas. 

Aside from the well written and complex characters, the cinematography was simple and nothing astounding. The dark lighting of the entire film until the very last moments of the movie when the sun lights up Ellie’s face puts Charlie’s depressing and isolated life into perspective. Although the production design was not dense, it was accurate to the environment Charlie created for himself, a small apartment with the window curtains permanently drawn to hide from the outside world. 

As brilliant as The Whale was, I would not recommend this movie to many people because of how truly difficult it was to watch. The Whale is similar to the 2022 movie Everything Everywhere all at Once as it highlights the complicated relationships between parents and their kids. I do not regret watching this because of the lessons I learned from Charlie and the rest of the characters. However, if someone wanted to see The Whale, I would warn them of the emotional impact it is likely to have.