The Whale

Too scared to venture out on our own, L&D turns to a guest reviewer from our friend and Reuben expert, Tommy Bergler, soon to be proud owner of the coveted L&D tee!

In these days of escapism, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Baz Luhrmann, and the insane CGI of Avatar, whichever version we are on, Darren Aronofsky brings a different view.

The first film I saw of Aronofsky’s is Pi, and just let’s leave it at his is a special oeuvre, to be savored at the right time and with the right people, and with a certain expectation. His work is not light. It is not flighty. It is not a cream puff of a film, to be swallowed and for the sugar rush to give you a pleasant warm hug all over. Aronofsky flays you. He turns you upside down. He isn’t afraid to dig in.

To truly see how challenging he can be with your vulerabilties, and make you uncomfortable. I noted that when the lights came up on The Whale, the audience I was with, all middle-aged white Brooklynites from Park Slope, Ft Greene, and Dumbo, got up and left and there were a smattering of what I distinctly heard were really uncomfortable laughs.

To say that this was Brendan Fraser’s greatest cinematic performance is an understatement. I remember watching Fraser opposite Pauly Shore back in the 90’s as an unfrozen Cro Magnon specimen in modern day Encino (Encino Man was the title of this great film), and this film shattered all opinions I previously had of Fraser.

The Whale is set in Idaho in the late fall of 2016, when Fraser, who portrays a brilliant though mortally emotionally damaged, kind, and sensitive man named Charlie, who realizes he is quickly dying, and seeks to reconcile with his estranged daughter Ellie, played by Sadie Sink (Stranger Things). Along the way, this ensemble piece, originally written as a play, shows us the relationships Charlie has with his friend Liz (Hon Chau), who is also a nurse, and who is his closest friend, as well as Thomas (Ty Simpkins), a complex young man with some familial estrangement issues.

Look, there are moments in this film when I was desperately uncomfortable and even disgusted. Aronofsky has a talent for challenging the audience. But I was prepared for what I was going to see, and I enjoyed it. My wife, however, was not amused nor entertained. So let me just offer that it’s not necessarily a “date night” movie. The play — yes, it’s a film, but really, it’s a play — takes you on a psychological journey through the valley of despair but rest assured that Aronofsky doesn’t leave you there in that chasm, there is redemption “at the end.” So go see it if you’re interested in taking that journey and see a tour de force performance by the actor previously known for playing Tarzan the Ape Man.

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