The Whale - all the Methaphors Explained

"The Whale" is a 2022 American drama film directed by Darren Aronofsky (the same one who gave us "Requiem for a Dream" back in the early 2000s).

The story is about Charlie - played by Brendan Fraser, who used to shine with muscle as Tarzan. About Charlie, an obese and reclusive writing teacher who mourns the death of his partner. He is now dying of congestive heart failure and is unwilling to try to improve his health, despite the best efforts of his girlfriend and nurse Liz (Hong Chau). Before he dies, however, he wants to reunite with his daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink, Max from A Very Strange Thing) and tries to repair the relationship destroyed by betrayal and estrangement.
This is a very deep and difficult film - while watching it, we feel sorry for Charlie for bringing his body to such a terrible state, we are horrified by Ellie's cynicism, we understand how the story will end, but still we follow Charlie's every attack with bated breath. This film may not become your board movie, but you should watch it at least once, at least for the sake of Brendan Fraser and Sadie Sink, and also for the deep writing allegories and interesting thoughts.

Let's understand the storytelling techniques and scripting tricks used in the film:

This Bottle Movie is a film that takes place in a confined space, literally in one room. There is an explanation for this - because of Charlie's enormous weight, he cannot leave the house or even get up from the couch without help or support.

The cast is also minimalistic: Charlie, Ellie, Liz, Thomas and Mary are the only central characters in the story, with the others playing only minor roles. This further emphasises the drama of the film.

Throughout the film, the weather is grey and rainy, which matches Charlie's depression and self-destruction.

The title of the film is also symbolic - "The Whale" is not only a metaphor in the very essay around which the action is based, but it is also an affectionate name for "big people"

Since there have been several TV reports of the 2016 Republican presidential election in Idaho, we can assume that the film is set in early March 2016. This makes Charlie's video conferencing software and mobile phone look a little more primitive than they might look in 2022. What Darren Aronofsky had to say by setting the film in this controversial period of American politics is open to interpretation. Given how Charlie values honesty, it can be assumed that Aronofsky used hindsight to convey that future Republican candidate Donald Trump often questioned the credibility of the media and was perceived as dishonest by his detractors.


The handsome and well-groomed Brendan Fraser plays the dishevelled and scruffy Charlie. This is the reception of "Beauty Inversion". Despite the fact that Charlie stopped caring about his appearance only after Alan's death, he claims that even before that he was not particularly beautiful. A lot of make-up and prosthetics were used to transform Brendan Fraser into Charlie.

Charlie never leaves his flat and has as few social connections as possible. Before the film begins, his only social contacts are Liz and his online students, whom he teaches with the camera off. He asks the pizza delivery guy to just leave the pizza outside his door and take money from his mailbox so he can't see him. His social circle only widens at the beginning of the film when Thomas visits him, and when he tries to reconnect with his daughter after Liz tells him he is dying.

Charlie is definitely suffering from an eating disorder. He often binges on junk food despite his overall health, which causes his nurse Liz to worry. There's even a scene of overeating that ends with him vomiting. It turns out that Charlie's overeating is a coping mechanism for traumatic experiences, particularly the loss of his partner.

Charlie is shown to be depressed and self-loathing, but he is also incredibly kind and gentle. He repeatedly demands honesty from people. He characterises Ellie's rudeness as honesty, and his final assignment to the writing group is to write something honest. He reads some rather depressing pieces aloud, marvelling at their uninhibited honesty.

Charlie makes no effort to keep himself alive and refuses to go to hospital, planning instead to save all his money so that it will go to Ellie when he dies.


Ellie is an example of the trope Teenagers are Monsters. She has serious behavioural problems, including cyberbullying, drug use and blackmail. She has even been suspended from school for her behaviour, causing her grades to deteriorate. She also suffers from phone addiction and spends all her time on her phone, refusing to even look at Charlie.
But Charlie accepts Ellie for who she is, even though her own mother thinks the worst of her and doesn't want her ex-husband to know how bad things are to avoid being judged as a bad mother. In the end, Charlie decides that the reason Ellie broke his bird feeder plate was actually an act of kindness to send the bird back home. The audience is left to decide if he is right about her.

Ellie is the defrosting ice queen - the melting snow queen. The implication is that after she finishes reading her Moby-Dick essay from high school, Ellie smiles genuinely for the first time, and perhaps it is a sign that she has finally opened up to him after years of resentment.
The meaning of the ending
The ending of the film, where Ellie stands in Charlie's doorway reading her essay, and Charlie finally gets up and walks towards her, and they are both bathed in the light coming through the door, can be interpreted in different ways. Either Charlie is dead, or he's finally able to free himself from his burden, but I'm leaning towards the first option. And by the way, the immersion in white is a very common technique in the films of director Darren Aranofsky.
One of the main motifs of the film is parental alienation. Ellie, Liz and Thomas are estranged from their parents.

Interesting facts about the making of the film:

- Ellie is seventeen years old, but Sadie Sink was in her twenties at the time of filming.
- Ty Simpkins was also in his twenties, playing Thomas, who seems to still be in high school.
- It took Brendan Fraser hours to pick out all the prosthetics and make-up needed to bring Charlie to life during each filming day. Fraser also became overweight to help with the process.

- It took Darren Aronofsky over a decade to make the film because he couldn't find the right actor for the role of Charlie.
- Brendan Fraser, despite not knowing about the original play and not having seen the script, signed up for the film because he was excited about the prospect of working with Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky was also keen to work with Fraser and was keen to give him a new career boost.
- Sadie Sink's younger sister Jaycee plays Ellie in Charlie's memories of her as a child.