Since being catapulted to fame at Cannes in 2000 with Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofski has truly found his footing in Venice. It’s here he’s unveiled many of his notable films, including The Wrestler and Black Swan. With Brendan Fraser staging a comeback in the leading role, and the the seal of distributor A24 – reminiscent of Miramax’s in its prime – anticipation is palpable.
The narrative centres on English teacher Charlie (Fraser). Morbidly obese, he conducts his lessons online, always keeping his camera off, clearly self-conscious of his appearance. His life is largely confined to his home, punctuated only by visits from his friend Liz (Hong Chau) and the consistent knocks from New Life Church missionary Thomas (Ty Simpkins) – whom Charlie curtly turns away.
Teetering on the edge of heart failure, the protagonist’s compulsive eating emerges as a coping strategy against a deeply felt loss. Against the odds, he finds a glimmer of hope in his quest to reconnect with his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink).
The Whale, while perhaps Aronofski’s most grounded endeavour, ventures deeply into the psyche of a character weathered by life’s adversities, a role Fraser embodies masterfully – something that won’t go unnoticed during the awards season. Moments where Charlie, under duress, succumbs to binge-eating are indeed hard to stomach.
Aronofski’s portrayal of an intricate father-daughter bond and the underlying reasons for Charlie’s departure and ensuing obesity is profoundly affecting. Hats off to Rob Simonsen for crafting such a beautifully understated score, a dramatic slow burn blending violins and synthesisers, only to crescendo emphatically in the conclusion.
As the final scene concluded, an unusual silence settled over the press screening room. After two decades of attending festivals, few films have demanded such introspection in their wake, leaving an audience not just speechless but contemplative, with the usual post-screening chatter nowhere to be heard.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
The Whale is released nationwide on 3rd February 2023.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.