DCA until 23 February
Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale is an intriguing encounter of the final moments one desolate soul, Charlie, makes on a path riddled with mistakes, a journey all of us know. Having abandoned his now 17-year-old daughter ten years ago, he is in search for redemption as a parent whilst battling with two major struggles—his declining health, as well as the guilt which lingers as a result of abandoning his family. His purpose in life has evidently declined along with his potential to live a healthy and lengthy life, and this is visible to us onscreen with the protagonist’s fleshly body. This stirs a series of emotions for viewers, as they battle with the dilemma on whether to sympathise or to hate the protagonist. The Whale proves to its audience that the repercussions of love, and the loss therein, has a powerful effect on a household, demonstrating the ways a human can be destroyed when the love of their life is tragically taken away.
The film’s title The Whale is a direct nod towards Charlie’s debilitating obesity which is a result of deep depression, but also hints at the emotional depth the film as a whole evokes. Similarly, the deep oceans in which whales can be found can be paralleled with the loneliness Charlie finds himself in. The lack of information regarding the world outside his home (so little filters through that even rain-storm noises are completely blocked out) suggests that the protagonist feels completely detached from the world, as if a captive in his home for eternity. The audience is not only invited into Charlie’s home, but we are fully trapped inside for the film’s duration, watching as scenes unfold within the house.
The emotion which the film conveys is woven into the soundtrack as a means to touch the viewer’s soul. Carried by dissonant yet mellow symphonies, Rob Simonsen manages to capture the essence of desperation, isolation and love. The score’s final piece, ‘Safe Return,’ encapsulates the darkness which is brought alongside a human’s last breaths into devastating peace — which exhales freedom, regret and longing. The contradictions within the music itself, the high-pitched violins contrasting the low double-bass strings are at times sustained for many bars. They engulf the audience into a plunge of death, causing our breath to be held in anxiety for Charlie. The final quietness represents a life no longer found, reminiscent of whale song in the depths of the ocean.
The flashback to the day on the beach is a very important aspect of the film. To analyse, the beach symbolises a series of ‘lasts’ for Charlie: the last time he swam, the last time he bonded with Ellie, the last time he saw his wife until days before his death, and the last time he was happy. The beach ultimately becomes the symbol of paradise for Charlie as a final memory before passing away. Leading on from this, the ocean, where most whales reside, is a representation of the afterlife.
My overall experience while watching The Whale was thoroughly pleasant. I was touched by the setting, the soundtrack and the emotional intensity of the film. I was moved to the point where my eyes welled up, and I needed to take a post-screening walk to catch my breath. The melodramatic aspects within the film are what caused such a large impact. I believe a similar effect was had on those around me as we watched the story reveal itself.