Adapted from Samuel D. Hunter’s play, “The Whale” is the story of an English teacher who is suffering from an eating disorder and other unresolved issues in his life. He isn’t able to embrace his past and is on a journey of self-destruction where he has lost the will to live entirely. He has nothing left to look forward to in his life, and he was never able to cope with the loss of a loved one. In Darren Aronofsky’s film, the most uncomfortable scenes are the ones where Charlie, the protagonist, played by the brilliant Brendan Frazer, loses his control and eats everything in sight. Food can actually be looked at as the personification of evil, and Charlie’s dying willpower is the catalyst that makes sure he falls prey to that. So, let’s see where Charlie’s life takes him and if he is able to get his salvation at the end of the film “The Whale.”
Major Spoilers Ahead
‘The Whale’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
In the first few minutes of the film, “The Whale,” we get to know that Charlie is fully aware of his miserable existence, and that is why he doesn’t like people seeing him in person. Charlie taught online writing courses at a university, and he never opened his camera and always told his students that there was some issue with his laptop. It is at this point that you realize Charlie has some serious, unresolved issues that are eating him up from within. Charlie had a compulsive eating disorder, and things had gotten so bad that he was told he could die any moment from congestive heart failure. The imagery of him eating compulsively, his difficulty in dealing with his disorder, his panic attacks, him profusely sweating, groaning and writhing in pain, is created in a manner that makes you feel uncomfortable and grotesque at the same time.
When we first saw him on camera, he was watching an adult film, and a missionary named Thomas walked in upon him. It felt like Charlie was about to die because he was suddenly experiencing a lot of pain in his chest, and Thomas began panicking upon seeing him because he didn’t know what to do. It was a very chaotic situation where Thomas got scandalized by seeing that he was watching explicit content, which for him was probably a sin, and then he didn’t know what to do because Charlie told him not to call an ambulance. Thomas found it absurd when he asked him to read an essay that some student had written analyzing the novel by Herman Melville, Moby-Dick.
We saw that as soon as Thomas started reading the lines of the analysis, which was undeniably quite bluntly written by an anonymous student, Charlie’s pain started to wither away. Those words worked like a magic spell, and Charlie could finally breathe and calm down. He asked Thomas to wait until his nurse came because he believed that he was going to die any moment. Thomas said that he was from New Life, a kind of Christian fellowship and that he wanted to help Charlie follow a spiritual path. Thomas felt that his arrival at the moment was a signal from God, and he felt obligated to cure Charlie. But Charlie was not interested in any of those things. He had read every pamphlet that New Life had ever printed, but it never had an impact on him. It was not like he was against the church, but there were some things that he could never understand in the way that people like Thomas did.
Charlie couldn’t walk or move properly, and he mostly stayed on the couch. His days were mundane, and apart from reading the essays of his students, he didn’t have any exciting activities to look forward to. What gave him the utmost gratification was a piece of writing that was blunt and honest. He always told his students that instead of being objective, they should be honest. As a teacher, he employed unorthodox methods, and he didn’t mind even if they blatantly criticized the classics. He was open to different perspectives and opinions, and he made his students believe that what they thought didn’t need to resonate with the rest of the world.
When Liz, Charlie’s friend, and nurse, arrived at his house, she did a routine checkup and realized that his condition was worsening day by day. His blood pressure was quite high, and she diagnosed that if he kept on going like that, he would not live much longer. Liz hated missionaries who came from New Life, and she asked Thomas why he would waste his life by working for them when he could actually go out there and make a difference. Liz told Thomas that he mustn’t come there ever again, as they didn’t want to hear what his God had to say. Liz told Thomas that New Life was the reason that Charlie lost the love of his life, though she didn’t divulge any more information, and it made Thomas very curious as to what role the church played in the death of a man. Liz was sick and tired of telling Charlie that he needed to go to the hospital, but he always told her that he didn’t have enough money to pay the hospital bills or even buy insurance. Liz had also given up after a point and she realized that Charlie probably didn’t want to live any longer. She tried to do as much as she could, but she didn’t have any delusions about what the end result was going to be.
What Had Happened To Charlie’s Lover?
Throughout the film, The Whale, we see that Thomas keeps coming back again and again because he thinks that he can help Charlie’s cause. One day Liz came from her work and once again found him in Charlie’s house. She got frustrated by his presence, as he didn’t understand what Charlie was going through and had no knowledge of what had happened to him in his life. She wanted him to stop being a savior because, in reality, he couldn’t do much for Charlie. Liz took him outside and told him that Charlie didn’t need this kind of unnecessary interference in his life, as he always had a lot to deal with. Thomas firmly said that he disagreed with Liz’s opinions, and that’s when she told him about what had happened with Alan, Charlie’s lover, and how New Life was indirectly responsible for his death. She revealed to Thomas that Alan was not only Charlie’s lover but also her brother.
Alan was also associated with New Life and had gone to South America to spread the word of God. Alan was not happy with his life, and he wanted to come back and start afresh, but he couldn’t do that because of his father. His father had found a girl for him at the church, but Alan didn’t want to marry her because he barely knew her. He was scared that the moment he came back to Iowa, his father would get him married to the girl, and he wouldn’t have a say in the matter. When Alan finally mustered the courage to return, he fell in love with Charlie, and obviously, being in a homosexual relationship had consequences, which his father considered nothing short of blasphemy.
Alan was kicked out of his family, and his father never accepted him throughout his life. Alan could never get over that, and he finally died because of the impact his father’s words and actions had on him mentally. Liz’s father told the congregation that Alan’s death was an unfortunate accident, but she knew it was more than that. She always blamed her father and his intolerant and obsolete religious beliefs for losing her brother. She told Thomas that the teachings he was propagating were hollow from within and didn’t hold any relevance for people like her and Charlie. She told him to go away and never come back to Charlie’s house again.
‘The Whale’ Ending Explained: Why Was Charlie Hopeful About Ellie? Was he Able To Reconcile With Her?
Ellie was probably the rudest and most misbehaving teenager one could imagine, and seeing her, one could tell she had serious issues that needed to be addressed as soon as possible. Charlie had a habit of exuding the utmost positivity even in the direst of circumstances, and it’s likely that he saw a silver lining in Ellie’s behavior as well, despite the fact that she portrayed the most abhorrent side of herself in front of him. She told him to write his essays after she learned that he taught the same thing at his university. Charlie had not met Ellie since his wife, Mary, had vociferously fought for full custody after their divorce. Charlie kept sending her child support and whatever other funds she needed, as he wanted Ellie to be brought up in the best possible manner. Ellie called Charlie disgusting, and it was not because of the way he looked but because he had abandoned her when she was eight, and it had ruined her from within. Not having a father around had a deep psychological impact on her, and she became this evil being who got gratified by making others subject to misery.
Ellie decided that there was no point in wasting time over things that couldn’t be changed now, so she started leaving, and that’s when we came to know about another secret of Charlie’s life. Charlie almost begged his daughter to stay and told her that in return he would give her a whopping sum. Till that moment, we believed that Charlie didn’t have money to pay for his insurance, but the reality was that he didn’t want to spend a penny on himself because he wanted to secure his daughter’s future. Ellie agreed to stay on the condition that Charlie does her essays because she apparently despised writing.
Mary came to know that her daughter was visiting her father, and she understood that he must have offered money to make her stay. She had this conversation in front of Liz, who had previously assumed that Charlie did not have that kind of money. Liz felt betrayed, but Charlie tried to make her understand why it was so important for him to do so. It was surprising that even after Ellie was extremely rude and unsympathetic towards Charlie, he believed that she was a good human being. Contrary to his perspective, Mary believed that her daughter was pure evil, and she never told Charlie anything about her horrendous behavior because she thought that would reflect badly on her and that people would call her a bad mother. She told Charlie the kind of things she had done and how she had posted a picture of him on social media, making fun of his obesity. But even then, Charlie didn’t like a word his wife said and stuck to his opinion that it was only the circumstances that had made her into a devil, though deep down, she was a good human being who wanted to help others.
Toward the end of the film “The Whale,” we see that Charlie finds proof of his daughter’s good nature when he accidentally comes to know that she has helped Thomas reconnect with her parents. Thomas wasn’t part of New Life, and he had run away from his home after stealing money from the church. He thought that his family wouldn’t accept him back, but Ellie had sent his pictures and a voice recording, in which he confessed his crimes, to his family without telling him.
Charlie accepted that he hadn’t done anything right in his life, and for the same reason, his conscience was burdened with guilt, so much so that he had lost the will to live. He always told Liz that he wanted to do one right thing before he died. He wanted his daughter to know that she was not a bad human being but a victim of the circumstances. He wanted her to know that there was good in her and that she only needed to change her attitude. We now know that Ellie wrote the analysis on Moby Dick that Charlie kept reading time and again when he was in pain. Charlie believed it to be the best piece of writing because it was the truth, and Ellie hadn’t shied away by sugarcoating her words.
When Ellie asked Charlie to write the essays for her, he gave her the same essay that she had written on Moby Dick. Ellie, without reading it, had submitted her assignment, and when she failed her examination, she came to confront Charlie, and that’s when she learned about it. Ellie had written in her analysis how, throughout the story, the author was just trying to save his audience from his own sad story. Mary had sent the essay to Charlie about four years ago, and since then, he had become obsessed with it. That day, Ellie called Charlie “daddy” for the first time, and it became a cathartic moment for the duo. Charlie got up from the couch without any support, and he started moving towards Ellie while she kept reading the extract from her analysis. While Charlie walked his last steps, all the fond memories kept coming back to him. In those last moments, Ellie had nothing but love for her father. She let bygones be bygones, and it felt like somebody had lifted a huge burden from her shoulders. Charlie’s miserable life came to an end, but before going, he made sure that Ellie knew that she was not a bad human being.
“The Whale” is not the kind of film that you can watch time and again, and at times, you do not realize what exactly was the intention of the writers behind a particular scene or character. The film is highly predictable, and there is no plot point that you don’t see coming, probably because Darren Aronofsky paid more attention to creating an imagery that breaks stereotypes and prejudices than to creating an authentic storyline that has something new to offer the audience. Yes, we learn about a person’s plight who has a compulsive eating disorder, but that isn’t always enough to affect us. What holds you for the entire film is the earnest and spellbinding performances of Brendan Fraser as Charlie and Sadie Sink as Ellie. You can watch the film for the performances or if you want to know how an eating disorder can wreak havoc in the life of a person and completely destroy him physically and emotionally.