As an aspiring marine biologist, I was ecstatic to hear The Whale finally hit theaters but rightfully cautious. Director Darren Aronofsky, the mastermind behind Black Swan (a movie with no swans in it), hinted at a repeated blunder: no whales in this film. Still, shots of the beach and waves crashing in the trailer kept me optimistic. On the night I bought my ticket, Aronofsky teased me in my dream.
I was an aquarium spectator, and Darren was at the other end of the tank. I heard the bellowing calls of humpbacks, blues, and even belugas, but the water was clear. Suddenly, he appeared. A beautiful bald head rose from behind swaying seaweed, and I knew from the gleam of his glasses that it was him. Darren’s palm rested on the tank, and I reached out to meet him. Suddenly, I was the one inside the tank—cold, wet, and struggling to breathe. Darren laughed as water filled my lungs. Once I woke up, I discovered that I had pissed my pants.
The opening scene should have been my sign to leave the theater. Protagonist Charlie, played by Brendan Fraser, masturbates in his living room facing a TV as the audience sitting behind me cheers him on. We see a back view, and Charlie’s massive head obscures the screen. I was expecting him to be watching a whale documentary. The “High Seas” episode of Our Planet is my personal favorite. Alas, as the camera pans to view Charlie, he is revealed to be watching run-of-the-mill gay porn—not my first choice.
To my dismay, whales were only referenced in this lackluster film through brief Moby Dick excerpts. Charlie reads an essay analyzing Moby Dick multiple times, hinting at an innuendo. I waited the whole two hours anticipating a sea cucumber money shot. Nothing. Not even the glimpse of a whale tail rippling through the water. Instead, viewers are forced to see Charlie reunited with his idiot family, reliving a nostalgic day at the beach. The sea beckons, and we are meant to ignore it.
A more pressing issue is Charlie’s disconnection from the overarching whale metaphor. I would have liked to see his character directly represent real whales. They are sleek and sexy marvels of nature, shiny bodies glistening as they swim to the surface to breathe. Charlie is only shiny because he sweats excessively and spends the entirety of the movie in his house, barely breathing. There is no intrigue, mystery, or a cheeky bit of blowhole rising above the water—only a lonely man peeking his head through the door to make awkward eye contact with a pizza delivery guy.
An average blue whale is ninety feet long with a twenty-five-foot wide tail ( you know what they say about wide tails). Water buoyancy frees whales from the constraints of gravity. It allows them to be graceful dancers in the depths of the ocean. Yet, they barely make a ripple in the water as they stalk their prey and serenade their mates (and marine biologists) with their heartfelt singing. In contrast, Charlie destroys his house as he lumbers around and wheezes, at one point knocking over a table and smashing a lamp as he attempts to stand up from his recliner without support. The noise was so loud I pissed my pants a second time that day.
To give credit where it is due, Brendan Fraser’s fatsuit and facial prosthetics are impressive. I still would have preferred him in a whale fursuit. The furry community has come a long way in design realism—when in water, I feel like I am swimming with a real whale. That is to say, I have never felt their smooth embrace or their hundreds of teeth bumping against my own as we kiss, but I can imagine what it would be like, you know?
Ultimately, The Whale is deceptively marketed to trick marine life enthusiasts by promising a raw and sensual oceanic experience but instead delivering an overplayed story about divorce. It is difficult for aspiring biologists like myself to get quality time with whales without authorities intervening, so on-screen representation is essential. Fraser’s performance is a well-deserved comeback to Hollywood, but this film is seriously lacking blowhole.
Vasiliki Vlastaras is a junior in the College studying Government and Modern Greek and doesn’t like whales much.