“The Whale” Is Gut-wrenching, But It’s Worth Our Tears

This post contains spoilers from the movie The Whale.

Julie X
7 min readMar 1


I watched The Whale without knowing much about it. In fact, I dove into the movie thinking it would be an uplifting and meaningful movie about how a severely obese and house-bound man inspired those around him.

I was so wrong.

The Whale is not a movie made for enjoyment. It is relentlessly heavy and intentionally claustrophobic. Everything from the movie’s 4:3 ratio to the heavy rain and the stairs were meant to emphasize Charlie’s isolation and loneliness.

I also appreciate how the soundtrack conveyed the mood of The Whale. The music was foreboding, melancholic, yet magnificent. There’s something about it that made me feel like I’m at sea. It definitely accentuated the emotional impact of the movie.

Here’s what I got from The Whale.

The Whale movie poster
The Whale movie poster, credits to A24

Charlie in The Whale

Charlie, played by Brendan Fraser, was likable from the beginning. His voice worked in his favor even when he was just a dark rectangle. It was kind and vulnerable, just like his eyes, as I later found out.

It was easy to empathize with him, which makes The Whale even harder to watch, right from the beginning too.

He couldn’t stand up or walk without a walker, and picking up small items he drops is a challenge, if not impossible. Moving around hurt him. Simple activities that brought pleasure — like masturbating and laughing — set off a coughing fit.

Through his caregiver and friend Liz (Hong Chau), we learn that he has congestive heart failure. It’ll kill him in a week or two if he doesn’t get treatment, but he refuses to go to the hospital, claiming that he didn’t have health insurance and didn’t want to rack up debt.

Later on, we learn that he didn’t want to go to the hospital not because he couldn’t afford it, but because he wanted to leave as much money as he could to his daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink).

In my opinion, there were more reasons he didn’t want to go to the hospital. One, he doesn’t want people to see (and judge) what he has become. Two, because he has given up on life.



Julie X

A minimalistic millennial trying to make her life mean something.