Pisces: Darren Aronofsky’s film is messy, but wise in terms of religious trauma

No wonder Darren Aronofsky wanted to adapt Whale, the 2012 Samuel D. Hunter play, for the big screen. It seems to have originated in the same brain that made NoahAnd the gladiator, And the the mother!A story about remorse and redemption, exploring the relationship between soul and body, and relying on biblical and literary legend.

So he had Hunter write the script and Brendan Fraser, who had been out of sight for a long time, to star. Fraser gives a brilliant and moving performance as Charlie, an online college professor who, out of his grief, developed an eating disorder that left him paralyzed. He cannot leave his house. He can hardly get off the sofa, and keeps the camera off when he knows, frightened by the look of his students.

Charlie lost his partner Alan a few years ago, and Whale As we progress, we slowly realize that his grief response to overeating is a reflection of the eating disorder that killed Alan. His late partner’s sister Liz (Hong Chao) is his best friend, stopping by his apartment every day to check on him and get him groceries. She works in the hospital, so she’s also slowly checking on his deteriorating health, and by the time the movie starts he’s showing signs of congestive heart failure. He will die by the end of the week if he does not seek medical attention, which is the only thing he refuses to do.

At the beginning of the movie, a young missionary named Thomas (Ty Simpkins) knocks on Charlie’s door, wanting to evangelize Charlie, who gently tells him that he knows the Bible inside and out. And he’s not the only unexpected guest: Soon, Elle (Sadi Sink), Charlie’s great surprise, appears; It’s his teenage daughter, sullen, rebellious and about to be expelled from school, and he hasn’t really seen her since his separation from her mother years ago. Its arrival appears to be a moment of redemption. Charlie feels like he messed up everything in his life, but maybe now, in his last days, he can do something right, and save himself.

Whale The film takes place in a very specific place: Moscow, Idaho, a city whose significance may not affect everyone in the same way. Located along the state’s northern border with Washington, it is home to a large Mormon population and a thriving movement Christian Reconstruction, an evangelical movement that espouses the idea, at its core, that biblical law should be the law of modern America. If you’ve been in conservative Christian circles, you’ve likely heard of the group’s leader, Douglas Wilson, a pastor in Moscow, who recently became famous for his Being advertised on the back cover of a book About Christian nationalism published by the right-wing Gap website.

All of this is noteworthy because Hunter (with likely contribution from Aronofsky) updated his Obama-era play to take place during the 2016 Republican presidential primary in Idaho. (In the background, on Charlie TV, we can hear Ted Cruz’s victory over Donald Trump by a large margin.) The characters don’t share outright political commentary, but Hunter provided another major update – changing young missionary Thomas from Mormon to evangelist, a member of what appears to be a fairly typical congregation in town called New Life. This church and its teachings, we are supposed to understand, are part of (or perhaps the cause of) a larger horrific moment in American history.

This is wallpaper Whale, but the real apocalypse is happening in Charlie’s house, at least if we take “Apocalypse” as a suggestive moment. We know – everyone knows – that these are the last days of Charlie’s life. It is constantly raining outside like a flood is coming. Charlie is obsessed with an article he keeps reading about Moby DickA book about the apocalypse, if there is a book, about a man with an obsession with a death wish. There is an air of dread, both of what will happen in Charlie’s house and what is happening outside his walls.

as a story Whale masked. as a movie Whale He is a shaking boy. First, there is the obvious problem of putting Charlie, whose body size is viewed with distaste by many of the film’s characters, on screen to be seen in a culture that owes a rampant fat phobia that tends to denigrate human dignity. The distinction between a person with a large body and a person with a large body and a failure because they are trying to end their lives is lost on many people, and these people will undoubtedly be in the audience. The bizarre vitriol devoted to the latter, disproportionate to all kinds of other ways of self-harm, is epidemic, and that does not even include the belief that it is acceptable to judge and comment on the shape of another person’s body.

Even worse, there are times when it’s not obvious that the filmmakers know the difference, especially the sequence in which Charlie’s annoying behavior is presented with the distinct air of a monster movie. You can’t control the audience’s reaction to a character, but you can direct it, and Whale It doesn’t always work. And there are a few other issues, too: The score feels manipulative at times, and Sink’s performance feels one curious, stressed and hysterical, especially on Fraser’s side.

However, there is more Whale, which is also really impressive. After the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, Hunter spoke about how growing up as a gay kid in Moscow, Idaho, he turned to food to heal the self-hatred he had learned to feel for himself, and experienced some of Charlie’s experiences. This is what Whale It gets exactly right: the ways fundamentalist religion and other legal cultures teach its followers to hate those whose bodies don’t fit a certain mold – especially themselves. It can manifest in many ways, but one of the most common is eating disorders, which look different in different people and get a range of reactions, but come from the same place. I was raised in a very conservative evangelical society. I tested this judgment as well. It’s deep, real, and killer.

the other thing Whale He deeply understands that our response to this stress is simply to try to save each other, or save ourselves. Charlie regrets that he couldn’t save Alan. Liz wants to save Charlie. Elle desperately wants to save and not at all. Salvation is mixed up in Thomas’ head: by trying to impose salvation on Charlie, he is trying to save himself. It’s Liz who finally realizes that no one can save anyone – trying to do so could mean you stop seeing them as human beings.

Which suggests that the title whale may also have something to do with it The story of Jonah in the Bible Who, in the famous Sunday School story, ended up in one’s stomach. After being asked by God to preach to the city of the wicked, Nineveh, he fled instead of serving them, only to find himself inside the gigantic creature. When he fled and surrendered, and finally reached Nineveh, he discovered that people listen to him and repent. Furious, he cried out to God to show mercy; God somehow commanded him to shut up and let God decide who would be saved. This is not his specialty. His job is to live.

And at its mysterious end, I think, Whale It suggests the same. We try to save each other, and we fail, because we can’t help but fail. All of us fail. But something in the world is still powered by the love we’re trying to get. In the end, this may be the most important.

Whale It premiered at the Venice Film Festival and was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival. Opens in theaters December 9, 2022.

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