Brendan Fraser starrer, ‘The Whale’ has recently been garnering a ton of criticisms from the general movie going audience regarding the film apparently sustaining and propagating stereotypes about obesity. Fraser has commented that he does respect such comments, but at the same time, respectfully disagrees with them.
The Whale and the controversy surrounding it
‘The Whale’, directed by Darren Aronofsky, focuses on Charlie, played by Brendan Fraser, a 600 pound man who, at the end of his life, mourns the loss of his boyfriend and also wants to reconnect with his daughter, played by Sadie Sink. This film has been regarded as a major comeback for Fraser, whose last screen presence was all the way back in 2008, with the last prominent role in ‘The Mummy’ series. Fraser, along with his castmates and director, had received a six- minute long standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, where the film premiered.
For this role, Fraser had undergone hours of prosthetic makeup and had additionally worn a 330 lb fat-suit to prepare and look the part for the role. This fact being used in the marketing of the movie has angered the people, claiming that it glorifies obesity. According to Roxanne Gay, a critic who wrote an extensive review of the film, called the movie ‘an inhumane film about a very human being’, calling it ‘exploitative and at times cruel’ when it comes to its portrayal of obesity.
Response from the community and critics
A number of fat LQBTQ+ actors have also voiced their criticisms against the film and its portrayal of an obese man. Guy Branum, a comedian and actor, has said that the movie has utilized the concept of ‘fatness’ as a metaphor for ‘gay pain’. Even actor Daniel Franzese has voiced his criticisms against the film stating ‘I guess you can go ahead and wear a fat suit and do what you have to do and get your Oscar’.
Darren Aronofsky has defended the decision by saying that such a step was taken only to make the film and the character of Charlie more realistic. Aronofsky also added that he did not expect there to be any controversy and thus, it made no sense to him since he thought that such prosthetics and the fat suit contributed to Fraser’s overall performance as Charlie. He and makeup artist Adrien Morot wanted Fraser’s performance to be as authentic as possible and not to look like a joke. They were mindful that Hollywood, as an industry, loved to make one-off fat jokes at the cost of human emotions.
Fraser has stated in multiple interviews that his approach to the role had undergone hours of ‘skill, care and preparation’.
‘The Whale’ has been the recipient of mixed reviews since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Though Fraser has been lauded and is currently the front-runner to win the award for Best Actor at this year’s Oscars, the film, unfortunately, haven’t enjoyed the same reactions. The movie has been criticized to be rather surface-level, and it doesn’t reach the same depths as Fraser’s performance. Even Hong Chau, as Charlie’s friend Liz, has been celebrated for her layered and intelligent performance.
Brendan Fraser’s performance
The movie has also played an important role in bringing Fraser back into the public eye. Starting out as a comedy actor in the 90s, Fraser had a rare quality of morphing in various characters with ease and charm in every film. But due to a number of surgeries and personal issues at the end of the 00’s, he started to shift away from the spotlight and ultimately, went into a decade-long hiatus. This comeback of Fraser has been termed by many as the ‘Brenaissance’. He is also set to appear in Martin Scorsese’s next film, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’.