Like most people, I have a great reverence for Brendan Fraser. I have no qualms admitting "Encino Man" is one of my earliest comfort films, as is "Airheads," and I'm a staunch defender of his performance in Henry Selick's "Monkeybone." Yes, I too would also "honk if I'd rather be watching the 1999 cinematic masterpiece 'The Mummy' starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz," upon seeing the viral SuperYaki bumper sticker in the wild, but I can also sing the dolphin song from "Bedazzled" by heart. Brendan Fraser is a performer I have loved for so long I cannot remember when he wasn't one of my favorite actors. Knowing that this multi-faceted performer has won the Oscar for Best Actor feels like something worth celebrating with the same intensity as watching the underdog team win the Super Bowl, but Fraser's win comes wrapped in the violent, grotesque embrace of Darren Aronofsky's "The Whale."
There has been a lot of incredible writing about why the film is, as the brilliant Lindy West described in her scathing takedown of "The Whale" for The Guardian, "a joyless, harmful fantasy of fat squalor," and I'll admit I was uncertain if I dared venture into similar waters. For a film that the creative team has claimed from day one to be a "human" story about a 600-pound recluse, it sure is ironic (and not at all surprising) that the film's biggest defenders resort to immediate fatphobic harassment toward any of the fat film writers who have shared their issues with it. Not to mention, speaking ill of "The Whale" is frequently confused with speaking ill of Brendan Fraser which ... is not at all what is happening. Brendan Fraser deserves the world, but "The Whale" is an irredeemable presentation of cruelty disguised as empathy.
Aren't We Past Misery Porn?
I don't begrudge Brendan Fraser for taking on the role of Charlie, because it is unrealistic for me to assume anyone who hasn't actively unlearned their anti-fat bias to immediately see why a project like this is a problem. Not to mention, this is his first leading role in quite some time, so I get it. I don't like it, but I get it. I've seen multiple people excuse the film's ghoulish portrayal of Charlie's weight and the cause behind it because "The Whale" treats overeating the way Aronofsky's film "Requiem for a Dream" treats drug addiction. Talk about being so, so close to finding the point and then completely whiffing it at the last second. Because that is precisely the problem. The film posits fat existence as a personal, moral failure, and one that is worthy of harassment and mockery. Hell, all four seasons of "1000-Lb. Sisters" on cable's favorite exploitation machine, TLC, are presented with a kinder hand than the 2-hours of meticulously crafted misanthropy that is "The Whale."
And yet, people have been eating up "The Whale" like A24 personally mailed them a trough, with an embossed card reading, "Feast, little piggies." Referring back to Lindy West's piece, she nailed it when she said, "people respond positively to 'The Whale' because it confirms their biases about what fat people are like (gross, sad) and why fat people are fat (trauma, munchies) and allows them to feel benevolent yet superior ... Thin people hate us so much that this is what it looks like when they're trying to like us." Aronofsky shooting Charlie eating with the subtlety of a wailing string quartet in a slasher was not an accident. "The Whale" is nothing more than misery porn deep-fried with an 8th-grade understanding of literary whale metaphors.
The Insidious Behind-The-Scenes Lobbying
Regardless of the talking points about "The Whale" being "inspiring" or "motivational" parroted throughout the entire awards season, there's nothing good faith about the final product. Aronofsky consulted with the Obesity Action Coalition, a nonprofit organization that claims to "elevate and empower those affected by obesity through education, advocacy, and support," but in reality, is a group that actively wants fat folks to disappear into smaller, more socially acceptable people. The OAC is backed by diet pill manufacturers, bariatric surgeons, and multiple weight loss centers. This isn't an organization that's trying to help dismantle the systemic hurdles that fat people often face in housing, employment, public accommodation, or medical discrimination situations — they're trying to make fat people go away. There's also been the hotly debated issue of the fat suit, which also won an Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling despite utilizing CGI enhancements while somehow crafting an infinifat male body that doesn't have fat deposited in the breasts.
It's downright harrowing to think about the team of animators that spent months trying to perfect the movement of Charlie's flesh, only for every character he interacts with to tell him what a fat piece of s*** he is for two hours. The only humanity that exists in this film comes from Brendan Fraser, who is so vigilantly fighting to showcase Charlie as a deeply complex, traumatized individual. Pundits have been calling him "brave" for taking on the role, a word often used to describe war heroes or fat women daring to wear a two-piece at the beach. They call him "brave" because he's willing to play a character who exists as the greatest fear of the dominant society. Why be afraid of an alien, a masked slasher, or even death when there's the possibility that you'll one day be fat?
The Academy Doesn't Deserve Brendan Fraser
But above all else, The Academy doesn't deserve to pat themselves on the back for giving Brendan Fraser an Oscar. He has always been a remarkable presence on screen, and the only reason he's having this so-called "comeback narrative" is that he was sexually assaulted by former Hollywood Foreign Press Association president Philip Berk at a 2003 luncheon and took a step back when the industry failed him. Brendan Fraser deserves so much more than just a statue, he deserves an apology and the ability to choose whatever projects he wants for the rest of his damn life. It was borderline nauseating to watch a room full of people, a majority of whom go to great lengths to erase even a hint of a sign of aging or weight gain, celebrate a man that was tossed aside by the industry for not staying quiet about his assault, and for no longer existing in his chiseled "George of the Jungle" frame.
Fat people deserve to have their stories told, but "The Whale" is not the story of a fat man, it is the nightmare of a thin person come to life, disguising a cautionary tale as one of humanity while dehumanizing the protagonist at every turn. Seriously, his teenage daughter drugs him, mocks him, and threatens to murder him but apparently, this is how people are supposed to learn how to treat fat folks with respect until we all apparently eat ourselves to death and stop being such a burden.
But Charlie, like Brendan Fraser, is the consummate good guy. No matter what horrors are thrown his way, he laughs it off, makes concessions for the inhumanity of others, and is just happy to be there. Fraser deserves better, and I can only hope that his Oscar win gives him the confidence and freedom to feel empowered enough to be pickier with his roles.
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The post Brendan Fraser Deserves the World, but The Whale Deserved Nothing appeared first on /Film.