“All mortal greatness is but diseases”Herman Melville, Moby Dick
What is grotesque if not a product of perception, the world itself is not merely shaped by ideas but also vision, one we dearly cherish but not one of our own authentic creations. Sadly the extremities of our symbolic order define the grand designs upon which the foundation of perception is created. Certainly, something that “The Whale” movie review tries to touch upon. The protagonist Charlie is a morbidly obese English professor who lives a very reclusive life, One that is solely based on minimizing human contact, with the sole exception of Liz, his only friend, and well-wisher.
Accidentally on a certain rainy day, Charlie is visited by Thomas, a young zealous missionary affiliated with the New Life Church, Thomas starts to preach to Charlie about redemption and salvation only to be disappointed by Charlie’s lack of interest and timely intervention by Liz. It is from this point the film takes an interesting turn, the mise-en-scene starts reflecting the abject misery of Charlie’s life. The constant rain, the chaos, and above all Charlie’s unhealthy obsession with food, a deadly coping mechanism.
All of this is combined with his wish to reunite with his daughter, a troubled teenager. Whom he abandoned when she was only eight, for Charlie is haunted by the past, a turbulent past. What is interesting is how Charlie’s tale resonated with the tales from the “Bible“.
The Whale and the Body… (The Whale movie review)
Here the body is the recipient of pain and agony, Charlie as a human being is conscious of this pain, as a matter of fact, he further inflicts the pain upon himself in order to repent for his sins, and a very Christian notion of guilt is manifested through his body. One goes ” Jesus died for your sins”. Charlie is not a metaphor for Christ the Savior, rather he is portrayed as an ordinary flawed individual who would perish not for the sins of others but himself.
This line from Moby Dick written by author Herman Melville reflects Charlie’s condition, the body being the repository of the self is aware of the events that change it forever. Hence he always found solace when he read his daughter’s essay on Moby Dick as if the author was trying to save us from his own sad story, just for a little while.
“You don’t have to be angry at the entire world. You can just be angry at me.” (The Whale movie review)
Coming to terms with one’s sexuality is difficult, but it is even more difficult to act on the impulse and let go of things that once mattered. Ellie is not just a mere troubled teenager, her anger stems from being abandoned by her father.
Her anger cannot exonerate what Charlie did to her. The things that are deeply embedded in the sense of memory is very extremely hard to get rid of. And it further shapes the values upon which relationships are defined. For Charlie falling in love was not painful nor was it difficult to accept the fact that he was gay. It became unbearable for him when he lost Alan, his boyfriend.
Ellie’s anger is reflected at the time. Charlie has too little time to give, and he is living on borrowed time, something his friend Liz does to make Charlie survive. Rescue him from the indignity of want and from further humiliation. Ellie’s anger is directed at the world, which took her father away from her. To her, the world stands for chaos, something that represents both hope and delusion.
Charlie’s physical attributes represent the inability of the memory to re-incorporate the truths, among all that is available to us. In other words, redemption too must take a familiar path in order for the light perpetual to fall.
“Who Would Want Me To Be A Part Of Their Life?” (The Whale movie review)
There’s an awful amount of human kindness that never gets a chance to blossom. Charlie has seen too much and spoken too little, but regardless of the circumstance he believes in human kindness. Thomas, however, tries to evangelize Charlie into becoming a believer in order for him to accept miracles and their divine origin. Charlie asks him rhetorically if he finds Charlie disgusting.
The film tactfully critiques the Biblical notion of beauty which reduces a human entity to a creationist fiction, something that has little or no agency over itself. In the eyes of the young pastor, Charlie is a sinner and disgusting because of his circumstance. But at this point, we can discover a very spiritual notion of beauty emerging through the circumstances. One that relies on honesty, one that does away with the clerical dictate.
Speaking of symbols… (The Whale movie review)
“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. Here Charlie’s redemption can only come through his daughter. Even though he lacks self-esteem he has the courage to look inwards. The film does not portray Charlie to be a victim of the circumstance rather it projects him as a man with flawed ideas who wish to move on.
In the world of ” The Whale,” it always rains as if it is a symbol of constant misery. The screen grows darker and the colors become murkier. A sorrowful world where one is one’s own jailer. But there’s just one exception, a very organized bedroom. One that is neat and clean as if the worldly hell had not reached this place. A paradise willfully lost. A bedroom full of cozy memories, one that belonged to him and his late boyfriend.
“This book made me think about my own life” (The Whale movie review)
Charlie would often say this book made me think about my life. In the film Charlie is Ismael and Alan is Queequeg and they fall in love and share a moment of intimacy with each other away from the watching gaze of the outer world. Charlie is often taken aback by his memory of the beach (a vacation with his family). A place where he found solace at the same time intense pain.
Charlie and Alan set out to stay with each other only to be chased by fanatics of the “New Life Church”. Ahab is a metaphor for that, they wish to separate Charlie and Alan. Charlie is haunted by the guilt of leaving his family and Alan by the Church.
The book being a metaphor for Charlie’s life is full of many ups and downs. Alan is the only person to whom Charlie is truly himself. Alas, he is killed by ideological indoctrination. The dictate of the Church consumes Alan.
Charlie is “The whale” not because of his size but rather because of his circumstance. He is obese because of a reason, and Ahab is the world that Charlie has fought hard to leave behind. But it’s all too painful, Hence he decides to become Ahab himself, and tries to hunt down “The Whale” ( a morbidly obese English instructor) away from the agony and the pain and onto the path of salvation and freedom.
What is important to understand here is that the real author of Charlie’s story is not Herman Melville but Ellie, it is her essay that reflects the entire life of Charlie in a couple of pages. Something that is honest and nonjudgmental. Hence each time Charlie has a near-death experience he reads the essay to calm himself. Like his entire life was being flashed in front of his eyes. One that lacked poetic trickery and contained intellectual honesty.
Ellie was trying to save “The Whale”. She knew what it had been through, even though it caused her immense pain personally. She was the only true friend Charlie ever had and never got enough time to convey the same to her.
As soon as Charlie heard this line, Charlie was exonerated from all his sins, he was free to walk the path of redemption. Hope had finally surpassed the rain and dampness to forgive Charlie. He was propelled to the world of cosmic truth, with the last glance being of his memory at the beach, his feet touching the gentle waves. Charlie walks into the light, in the words of the poet Robert Graves: