Editor’s observe: This article accommodates plot spoilers for “The Whale.”
I knew earlier than seeing “The Whale” that it was a film a couple of man named Charlie who weighs over 600 pounds, is grief-stricken over the death of his companion, and is effectively trapped in his house because of his weight.
I also knew that “The Whale” had attracted a great deal of criticism, frightening anger, disgust and accusations of exploitation. Despite the controversy, Brendan Fraser’s efficiency has been broadly praised, and he’s been nominated for finest actor at the 95th Academy Awards.
But what I didn’t know was that this movie would make me cry. As I left the theater, I discovered myself hyperaware of my own fats body moving via the parking lot, and I began to feel the finest way I typically do when I see a reflection of myself in a mirror: monstrous.
In my research on fats characters in popular culture, I point out how the fat character often must lose weight in order to gain acceptance or to be loved.
In “The Whale,” however, Charlie doesn’t shed pounds; the transformation goes in the incorrect way: he will get greater and bigger, struggling a gradual and painful physical breakdown. As I watched the movie, I began to know, with a looming sense of dread, that “The Whale” had no plans to recuperate this character. The fatness was the subject and the purpose.
I started to realize that this film was not a melodrama, nor an uplifting tale about redemption; to me, “The Whale” is a physique horror film that exploits the worry and disgust folks feel toward fatness.
The physique as a monster
Body horror is a subset of the horror film genre that depicts the destruction, degeneration or mutation of the human physique. These films are designed to gross out viewers, and the protagonist usually turns into the monster of the story as their body becomes increasingly repulsive.
Director David Cronenberg made the subgenre famous in movies corresponding to “The Fly,” “Shivers,” “Videodrome” and “Rabid.”
“The Fly,” a remake of the 1958 film of the identical name, tells the story of a scientist named Seth Brundle who merges his DNA with that of a common housefly. Over the course of the movie, he progressively degenerates right into a disgusting creature nicknamed “Brundlefly.” Another significantly disturbing physique horror movie is “Tusk,” in which a person obsessive about walruses finally ends up kidnapping a cruel podcaster and dismembers him so as to turn him right into a walrus.
In body horror movies, there’s something viscerally disturbing about seeing the human body distorted, whether or not it’s due to a parasitic alien, a mutated virus or the sadistic compulsions of a mad scientist.
“The Whale” suggests that although Charlie deserves pity, he is nonetheless a monstrosity.
Like Seth Brundle, who experiments on himself while drunk, Charlie frequently gorges on fried rooster, pizza and subs – the implication being that Charlie is instantly answerable for his morbid obesity.
Seeing Charlie’s gradual bodily disintegration is like watching a slow-motion automotive wreck; you can not look away even though you realize you need to. He’s barely in a place to stand, and he loses the flexibility to carry out essentially the most basic of tasks, like picking up an object from the floor. In some scenes, the digital camera rests on Charlie’s distended gut, his swollen calves or his sweat-soaked clothes, inviting the audience to be repulsed.
In physique horror, there is not a return from being transformed; the harm is finished. And although not every remodeled physique horror character dies, many do.
In the tip, Charlie’s physique finally ends up destroying him.
Till flesh do us part
Film critic Robin Wood famously argued that “the true subject of the horror genre is the battle for recognition of all that our civilization represses and oppresses.”
In a thin-obsessed tradition, fatness has turn out to be its own type of monster. Despite the physique positivity motion, fats persons are nonetheless typically considered as unattractive and irregular, and usually tend to be discriminated against at work, stigmatized by physicians and convicted by juries.
In 2012, sociologist Francis Ray White wrote that “fatness is increasingly being figured as anti-social” – one thing that “must be eradicated within the identify of a viable future.” White factors out that when weight problems is talked about as an “epidemic,” it reinforces the concept fatness is an illness that should be cured, and that fats individuals are not folks however carriers of a contagion.
In the ultimate moments of “The Whale,” viewers witness Charlie’s life ending: He vividly remembers a time when he was blissfully happy, on a seaside along with his daughter and the love of his life. As he is dying, he levitates, eventually free from the monstrous burden of flesh.
It is the only time within the movie where he appears weightless; certainly, it’s the only second of freedom for this character.
But the monster itself – fatness – lives on.
Darren Aronofsky, the film’s director, has said that his film is “an train in empathy.”
But if empathy is the power to understand and share the sentiments of another, why was I left with the thought of my very own physique as an irredeemable monstrosity? I’m not alone in this unease; critic Roxane Gay referred to as The Whale a “carnival sideshow,” and “emotionally devastating.” To Gay, “The Whale” depicts fatness as “something despicable, to be prevented in any respect prices.”
She might have been describing a monster. She might have been describing me.
This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit information web site devoted to sharing ideas from tutorial experts. If you discovered it attention-grabbing, you would subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter.
It was written by: Beth Younger, Drake University.
Beth Younger does not work for, seek the guidance of, personal shares in or receive funding from any company or group that would profit from this article, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their academic appointment.