The Whale: good, but not Aronofsky's best effort

No thread on an Aronofsky film in this group? Am I searching wrong? Anyway, in my opinion, good, but not Aronofsky’s best effort. While the story of the last days of Charlie, a morbidly obese writing professor, holds your attention, it somehow lacks the gut-punching intensity of a Requiem for a Dream. Everything is just a bit too pat, as if Aronofsky was checking off a list for this kind of story: Narrow aspect ratio to emphasize the claustrophobic nature of Charlie’s life? Check. No bright lighting, except to highlight specific scenes? Check. Supporting characters who act exactly as you would expect? Also check. As to those supporting characters, I think they just were written too flat. Yes, except for Sadie Sink as Charlies daughter, the performances are unremarkable, that seemed to be more of a problem with the script than the actors.

So, the big question: Is Brendan Fraser’s performance as Charlie all that? It’s hard to say. No question he’s convincing s a man who has unsuccessfully tried to bury his emotional wounds under gluttony, but the problem is that good performances of persons afflicted with physical or mental disabilities tend to get too much credit. However, Fraser does show human emotion that, at least at times, transcends all the fat makeup and prosthetics. The movie is worth watching for that.

The Whale lost me when the daughter came into play and was just a caricature of “dumb teenagers always angry” stereotype. I found the ending ironically funny. Just this “oh someone showed some potential for a second and the guy just immediately fades” was some … artistic choice.

Also then my laptop decided on that evening to pass away, too. And honestly, I can respect that your immediate reaction to the ending of The Whale is to just outright refuse to continue, too. What a power move.

The Whale neither had the soul to portray the last moments between two or three people where one persons life slipped slowly but consistenly away.

I don’t think that Aaronofsky knows how normal people talk.

This doesn’t necessarily contradict your point, Jon, but The Whale was an adaptation of someone else’s stage play. I got the sense the play itself was pretty facile and Aronofsky was working with what he had. But having seen Noah, which he did write, you may be right.

But who among us can’t relate to having a heart attack while you’re masturbating to gay porn at the moment a rogue missionary shows up to read you your daughter’s lame-ass essay on Melville’s most famous novel? Am I right?

I did not care for The Whale. Amazing make-up, but everything else felt like some combination of contrived or sophomoric to me.

Loved her in Fear Street! She’s got one heck of a career in front of her!

He said the funny words!

(Sorry, impulsive.)

Camp, maudlin schlock. Embarrassing for anyone who was involved, and I’m honestly embarrassed to have watched it. I could have walked out at any time. And I chose not to. I’m complicit!

It’s like a John Waters movie without the self-aware humor. So, sooooo bad! Worst movie of all time, though? I mean, there are some solid contenders… I wouldn’t go that far.

Ah, I didn’t know that he didn’t write this one.

Though, maybe he was drawn to the way this play was written, in his style of nonsense.

Looking at Aronofsky’s career.


The 2 good movies he made were not written by him. The Whale is an exception I guess. And I guess if we are going to get really harsh, Black Swan borrows themes heavily from Satoshi Kon’s “Perfect Blue” so even though I think Black Swan as a movie is great, from a stellar performance from Natalie Portman, it isn’t quite as original as some of his other movies (maybe that is a good thing?). I mean, the similarities in plot and tone between Black Swan and Perfect Blue are pretty obvious. Young performer, going through a lot of stress, disassociating between the real her, and the “performer” persona, etc. Black Swan is still very original Aronofsky is such a fan that Requiem for a Dream straight up took exact shots from “Perfect Blue”, so you know he is a fan of Satoshi Kon.

I don’t know where “The Wrestler” came from, as that sticks out pretty sorely from that list as well. That movie is just good.

If you haven’t seen Satoshi Kon’s films, you definitely need to check out some of his movies.


Requiem for a Dream isn’t good? Rather large disagreement there.

Yeah, Requiem for a Dream is his best movie. I liked The Fountain, The Wrestler, Black Swan and Pi, but Requiem really stuck with me. 20-odd years later, I get chills if I hear the first couple chords of that song.

Who’s seen Pi lately? How’s it hold up? I haven’t seen it since it was released!

9AM restate my assumptions: Pi is still a really great movie. If you need an excuse, you could watch it to celibate Mark Margolis. Apparently it was super remastered and re-released back in March?

When hear Clint Mansell’s music kick in I get super excited. And the themes of seeing patterns in everything and trying to figure out what’s real has stuck with me throughout my professional career.

Oh man, requiem is bad.

It looks good, has an interesting message, has a memorable song, but man does it not hold up.

The stuff with Ellen Burstyn is good, she is incredible in this. Nobody talks or acts like real people, the movie is rife with unrealistic tropes, over dramatized situations and just plain unrealistic depictions of drug abuse. It tries to show drug abuse as some dizzying disorienting for artistic effect. It feels like a trick.

I saw it when I was 19 and I thought it was deep, I watched it again and spent the entire time laughing. It is all just so cliche with completely over the top characterization and dialogue.

I mean, when you take narcotics your pupils constrict rather than dilate… which happens constantly throughout the film.

It is worth a re-watch and reevaluation, but it feels so sophomoric now.

About halfway through this movie, I turned and said to my film partner, “This feels like a stage play.” It was the movement that did it. The characters were always making these large sweeping walks from stage left to stage right in between their dialogue beats, with Charlie’s spot on the couch always stage center. Which isn’t how people talk, but sure is how people talk on stage. Crud, they even seemed like they were projecting into a theater half the time.

Sure enough, we found out that this was an adaptation of a stage play.

One part stands out. The missionary kid wants to talk to Charlie about the Bible, and sure enough Charlie has read the whole thing cover to cover. “It was devastating,” Charlie says. It seemed like this would be the beginning of a dialogue about how those most zealous about the holy book tend to prooftext it so thoroughly that they don’t really know what’s in there, or how horrifying it is to base your morality on a text that speaks approvingly of genocide, or that the missionary’s church, like many churches, reduces this complicated text into something flat and univocal… except it turns out Charlie doesn’t know the book any better than the missionary! Like every other conversation in the movie, it was a sequence of soundbites rather than an exchange of insights or understanding. I got shades of Paul Schrader’s First Reformed again, another movie about the shortcomings of religion that aspires to make a more mature point than it actually does. And, also like First Reformed, it falls flat on its face in the final shot.

100% agree. I loved it when I first saw it - I was a teenager. Seriously, it’s so over the top, it’s…basically a modern Reefer Madness.

I’m generally very wary of Aronofsky, not just because of the Satoshi Kon / Black Swan thing. I haven’t seen either in a long time, but I think The Wrestler took some strong inspiration from Fat City? Love Rourke in it though.

Of course! I had completely forgotten until I read your comment that of course that’s why I know Margolis. All the Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul refernces in the obit headlines had made me forget Aronofsy introduced me to him, in Requiem, in The Fountain, and in Pi first!

That’s all the incentive I needed! Thanks, @espressojim!

I don’t think there’s any doubt Ellen Burstyn’s story still works, is there? It’s just the other three. I think it still works as a tragedy about the cycle of narrowing perspective and narrowing circumstances. The particulars of drugs could be updated to be about something like fentanyl and the modern legal environment and have better racial sensibilities, but I don’t think that would change the character study.

Somewhat OT, but anyone looking for a realistic, harrowing look at the hard-core drug scene of the 70’s should check out Panic In Needle Park.

Pacino’s first starring role and a big reason Coppola wanted him so badly for The Godfather.

Midnight Cowboy as well.