It seems that these days absolutely everything is a potential new battlefield in the culture wars. Hot on the heels of the Little Mermaid controversy comes news that the next target is The Whale.
Brendan Fraser stars in Darren Aronofsky’s forthcoming drama, which follows a 600lb man called Charlie as he tries to reconnect with his teenage daughter. The movie received rapturous reviews and standing ovations on the film festival circuit. Fans are also celebrating the return to the big screen of Brendan Fraser, a hugely popular actor with a lot of goodwill.
So, of course, predictably somebody has to ruin it. Katie Rife who reviewed The Whale for Polygon, took to Twitter to voice her concerns over the movie and its portrayal of the portly. She wrote via the social media platform:
“I can’t recommend in good conscience that fat people watch The Whale. I can’t recommend that skinny people watch it either, since it reinforces the notion that fat people are objects of pity who have brought their suffering upon themselves through lack of coping skills.”
She added that the movie featured “massive red flags” for eating disorders and fat phobia. Using the language of the permanently offended on behalf of others she said she found it ‘incredibly triggering’.
Please excuse the typos, I’m really feeling like shit after that viewing experience. There’s a scene where the main character drops a key and can’t pick it up, and PEOPLE WERE LAUGHING.
— Katie Rife (@RifewithKatie) September 12, 2022
Of course, then the inevitable started, with one person chiming in:
“I was so afraid of that. As a person who has struggled with her weight, binge eating, shame eating and fat abuse all my life I’m just not sure I can emotionally handle a film like this. Even for Brendan Fraser.”
As part of the standard back and forth that is to be expected in 2022, another countered:
“What if there are obese people who want to see the movie and who won’t get upset at such things? They just want to see an Aronofsky film and Fraser’s performance. Not everyone gets triggered when maybe they see themselves in a film.”
This theme was carried through into Rife’s full review where she said:
“In The Whale, Aronofsky posits his sadism as an intellectual experiment, challenging viewers to find the humanity buried under Charlie’s thick layers of fat. That’s not as benevolent of a premise as he seems to think it is. It proceeds from the assumption that a 600-pound man is inherently unlovable.”
If you had told me back in 1999, while enjoying The Mummy at my local multiplex, that 23 years later a culture battle would be fought over Brendan Fraser in a fat suit I am not sure I would have believed you.