As Canada honors our National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, it seems fitting to examine a movie that deals in its own right with the hard truths of trying to reconcile past transgressions. Recently premiered and revered at both the Venice Film Festival and TIFF, the film ‘The Whale’ has received tremendous well-deserved recognition and praise throughout the entertainment industry. In fact, our very own humble unassuming and extremely talented ‘Canadian’ (slash American) actor Brendan Fraser has been earmarked as the front runner to win the very coveted Oscar for Best Actor Award.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky this remarkable story is an adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s play of the same name that focuses on main character Charlie (brilliantly played by Brendan Fraser), a 600-pound self-loathing isolated obese gay English teacher with addiction problems who never leaves his pod; and how he endeavors to reconnect with his estranged teenaged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) who he abandoned, along with her mother, to romantically pursue one of his much younger male students. Deemed as a ‘performance for the ages’ all Canadians will have their fingers crossed come awards season that Fraser will take home gold for going ‘above and beyond the calling of an actor’. It would be the first Academy Award for Fraser, a beloved former A-lister whose earlier work consists of a slew of popular movies including, ‘George of the Jungle’, ‘The Mummy’, ‘The Mummy Returns’, Encino Man’ and more. Such roles came easy to a young incredibly handsome Fraser, but like many actors, aging is a curse, with cutesy characters harder to pull off. Transitioning into more serious performances is a painful journey that often cannot even be achieved because as all actors know, once stereotypes take hold, they are hard to break. This certainly was a fate Fraser suffered, and though he never disappeared completely, blockbuster roles dried up – until now.
So with all the chatter about this film what is the likely take-away message? It’s worth noting that the title of the movie doesn’t just refer to Charlie’s massive size – tipping the scale at 600 lbs (fast fact: 600 lbs is the starting weight of ocean whales) and how challenging it is for him to exist in his environment (fast fact: 7 out of our 13 great whale species are endangered or vulnerable). Whales are gentle complex mystical intelligent illusive giants who are relatively friendly but secretive. Similar traits Charlie seems to mirror. That said, the title does not have much to do with the main meaning this film aims to impart on viewers. The narrative is also full of drowning regrets, missed approaches and mistakes, mourning and self-destruction. Charlie is after all eating himself to death! But again, these are not the key take-aways audiences should depart the theater with. No.
In fact, the fundamental life-lession of this picture is much like Brendan Fraser’s surprising comeback. Sink or swim. It’s about resurfacing from the depths of despair to catch one more breath that will bring a sense of relief, albeit brief, to repair the breach, to calm the waves, to tame all hidden creatures lurking below, to lighten the darkness. Fraser’s character Charlie references ‘Moby Dick’ in the film several times, which some might think is fitting with the title. But in fact, ‘Moby Dick‘ is a well-known metaphor for a problem that haunts a person, or a goal that is difficult or even impossible to attain. In short, the weight of Charlie’s most distainful human failings, like a hump on his back, will remain until he rights the wrongs that he’s carried far too long. Redemption vs. Deterioration – ‘If there is to be reconciliation, first there must be truth.’ ― Timothy B. Tyson. Being truthful and accepting of the self – now that’s the real take-away message of this film. Still waters run deep, but we must settle into our stillness to find serenity.
Most critics would agree that this film, set to be released December 9th 2022, is worth the watch though some writeups have been likened to a slaughter, but regardless most reviewers agree that Fraser’s gripping performance should earn him an Oscar nod. As a fellow Canadian I truly hope that come Sunday March 12th 2023, Brendan Fraser is met again with long, enthusiastic standing ovations, and deafening applause, as he accepts the gong for this award-winning performance. True to his Canadian heritage, I’m sure his acceptance speech will be delivered with sincere yet emotionally moving modesty, endearing him to all, who rooted for this unpretentious inconspicuous underdog to succeed and show the world that he was always much more than just a pretty face.
P.S. This film also taps into how punishing individuals can be on themselves and their personal choices, thus never feeling good enough. Why is it that our ideal self seems so unsustainable or out of reach altogether. On this point, shame associated with weigh-gain is an epidemic in our society, as body dysmorphia rages on. How sad. Especially since the aim in life is to make peace with ourselves and others. Doing yoga personally helps me find my center – when I’m doing it. Then the class ends, and again my mediations are replaced with provocations! Om – my god. But as an eternal optimist I keep seeking Ananda (a-nun-dah; the highest state of being – an ecstatic state of complete bliss, love, and unsurpassed joy). I highly recommend everyone do the same. Namaste and be kind to yourself. 🙏