A Whale of a Story by a Whale …
When first previews of The Whale surfaced, I can imagine more than just I was feeling conflicted feelings for what would be a soon-to-be Oscar-winning film. Many assumptions were being had, such as this could only be a poorly written, 600-lb life/fat hate movie. Sitting there in front of the TV, feeling anxious enough about the movie/ my feeling about the movie that I did not want to watch it with even my partner I begin to watch The Whale alone.
I can’t move on without talking about my love for Brendon Fraser. When I say I loved him, well my bedroom was plastered with him, I would fight my friends for the movie posters at the local VHS/DVD place. I am not sure how old I was when I first saw any of Brendon Fraser’s movies but I know by 14 I was hooked. This handsome guy stole my heart, but more so for me, I felt like if meeting him in person you would meet a kind, fun-loving guy. I watched everything I could just to see him. While time changes how we view people I will have to say this was a role I never expected of him but he did it so well I was amazed. For much a reason as any, I still wanted to watch every second of this movie no matter how it made me feel because it was him. It was like I trusted him to deliver this role. This has been a big argument in the fat world with many opinions. So here is mine.
In my opinion, The Whale did some things so right. Some of it was a bit touch and go. I know in the fat community there has already been some talk about how they are mad, about the partial. The elephant in the room or in this case the whale is the fat suit. We know there are men out there that are 600 lbs. and an acting gig would have changed their lives, however, it is what it is and a credited actor took the role. The fat suit was so much better than the fat suits we have seen in the past it is almost overlookable. The realistic belly hangs the semi-realistic double chin. The realistic movement or non-movement from Brendon Fraser as Charlie was more spot on than realizing or wanting to admit according to what view you’re looking from. The harm that would come from this movie is not the movie itself it is how average people view and reviews the film.
Let us talk about the good. It really means something when for so long a fat person is always assumed to be stupid, and dirty. In The Whale, Charlie had a job as an English professor, was finically stable (even if he was not using the money but saving it), had a fairly decent kept apartment, showered, and moved around it even if for the minimum. Charlie’s ability to become a shut-in was anchored to his size but also his mental instability. It has been very common for us extremely fat folks to become shut-ins. At the height of 2021 when the world was shut in mode, and everyone was in panic mode, we extremely fat thrived because we had already been doing it for so long. Also, very common in the extremely fat world is a loved one of some type (family member to a friend) has a connection to the real world which in Charlie’s case it is his best friend Liz (Hong Chau) whom we find out later is the sister of Charlie’s deceased partner Alan. Liz brings him his food, miscellaneous items he needs, and meds to take care of him as best as she can. Liz feels the heavy load of being that lifeline. Frustrated that Charlie is doing nothing to help himself.
In this movie, we meet Charlie, Liz, and a random door-to-door missionary named Thomas, that helps Charlie not die at the beginning of the movie and later has a small part involving the daughter. We also meet Ellie (Sadie Sink) who is Charlie’s daughter with Mary (Samantha Morton) whom he was married to before he admitted to his preference for men. The main story is about Charlie, Ellie, and their past, and present relationship. While I was watching this movie, I was hyper-aware of all the mental health issues going on with every character. I do not see this movie as a movie about a whale of a man, I see this movie about a human man/father and his estranged daughter. Of course, this is where the problem begins. Most people are viewing this as a story about a “grotesque” (not my word but the word at least one article used to describe Charlie) size man-eating himself to death and wanting to make up with his daughter. I see this as a whale of a story. A whale of a story about how one huge choice in life, can play out and change everything for these six lives. To be more specific how one loss of life “suicide” can change everything for so many lives.
Where the movie could have done better and taken the story and made it much more about mental health issues and less about the size of the man would have been less about eating disorders and more about being a shut-in. Hear me out. For some watching Charlie eating to die, and let us face it that was exactly what Charlie was doing, it was overlooked and thought to just be a fat person eating habits. For only a few, the eating scenes were about the need to die. Charlie at one point is seen putting a candy bar back into a drawer and then looking up his blood pressure, he sees it isn’t high enough but is in the death zone, only to open the drawer and keep eating. This is where the audience should truly understand that Charlie is not just a fat man he is a fat man with a mission of death. I feel some sort of way about the turn of the movie and the force of the eating scenes. However, it was not the movie itself that turned this Whales Stomach. It was the reviews. Time and time again, and maybe this is the reason it has taken me weeks to complete this blog I could not stop reading the reviews and listing to the interviews. I wanted to make sure my assumptions of how the movie would be taken had some weight to them, or if I was just another “fat person” on a soap box.
Around the same time as the eating scene, we also learn around this time how people react to and treat fat people. The delivery man who stands at Charlie’s door a lot asking if he is ok over and over, one day decides to wait around to see if Charlie is ok. Once he sees Charlie, he doesn’t know what to do so turns and goes. We do not hear from or see the delivery guy again.
This movie was a moving movie about love and the end of life. Charlie’s love for his spouse, daughter, friend, and even his ex-wife. The fact that Charlie could hear Ellies’ Moby Dick’s essay and calm down plays to his love for her, not to mention saving the money for her even if it meant no health care for him. It was about Liz’s love for her brother and for Charlie, and yes Ellie’s love for her father. It was about the loss of love, and spiraling out of control with depression that comes with the tragic death of loved ones, It was about giving up on life, and the never-ending desire to have at least one thing you did right. Charlie’s deep desire to do right by his daughter and to make sure she knows how much he loves her was so enduring and in a lot of ways, the way people are reviewing the film is talking too much about Charlie’s weight and not enough about his depression and end of life goals.
For the fat community, I know there are some that are mad at the film and the display of “typical” fat person roles. However, that part to me was something more. It reminded me of what I looked like and felt like at the young age of 19 which is when I decided I wanted to die, and figured food would be the easiest way to die and not right out killing myself. I had never been a binge eater, nor am I now. When I lost my last grandma to death and in other ways, my mom, and my grandpa, At 19. I had no desire to live anymore. I remember the day I made that decision” death by eating,” funny enough it was the chicken I chose. I ate my way through half a bucket of chicken and biscuits. On other days it would be an entire pizza, or Big Mac, 20 pieces, fries, coke, and flurry. I continued that way till I was 24. Then life begins to have a bit of reason in it. I wanted more. I cleaned up my life and begin to change the thinking of a severely depressed girl. While depression comes and goes and yes affects my eating habits, nothing as bad as Charlie and his desire for death. Which in the end was greater than even his love for his daughter? Yes, that may be the opinion that some are left with but in my viewpoint, Charlie was too far gone by the time he sees he had a chance to be a father. In all the ways that are important, I think Charlie if seeing the future before he becomes what he becomes would have had different actions.
I do not want to ruin the entire movie for you, so I am leaving a few details at large. To conclude, The Whale was intense, depression-filled with extreme cases of depression, and would make for an on-your-seat kind of drama that truly knows how to draw in the watcher. As a whale myself, I viewed this movie and was incredibly moved by the story of Charlie and his daughter, I had no issues with the way Charlie was betrayed. It was clear to me he was eating to die. I feel like the betrayal comes with how one part (the size and eating habits) of a bigger story takes this amazing movie down a few notches. The movie ends with the beautiful idea that life no matter how bad it is, can be made up of perfect moments that we hang onto and remember forever.
Side note: Sitting in my tv room, watching The Whale… having been and currently am about the same size as Charlie watching Charlie try to stand and fall, reminds me of September when I was coming down a flight of stairs and five stairs from the bottom rolling my ankle and falling. Only to end up in the hospital for 40-plus days. Watching Charlie having to ask for help for things he wished he never had. Reminds me of needing my fiancé for things he should never have had to do. Seeing Charlie struggle to the bathroom, showering “knowing he is praying to not fall during”. Charlie seeing himself the way others see him, reminds me of those times I have as well. The fact that I do not see myself as Charlie saw himself, I once did. I once did not know my worth, didn’t care if I lived or died. Thinking my loved ones would be better off without me. This is what I am telling any of you that relate too much to Charlie, YOU are important, you are worth your oxygen, and you do not have to live up to anyone’s expectations. You, even if I do not know you, you are loved by me. You deserve to live. Nothing is too big or too small to change your current tough situation. You are strong, Beautiful, and loved.
PS. Skinny people watching the whale if you could please refrain from assumptions. I actually get sick every time another skinny person revies The Whale. No way can they understand what this movie is, if all they are going to comment on is the fat suit and the eating habits. YOU totally Missed the point.