No, The Whale is not about obesity or fatphobia, it’s about self-destruction

And it begs the question whether portraying a drug addict or alcoholic would be as shocking to us today as it is seeing someone killing themselves through the overly consumption of something necessary to life.

Lidia Zuin
7 min readMar 17, 2023

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Warning: a few spoilers ahead.

When the movie The Whale was announced, there was all the commotion around the coming back of Brendan Fraser after all those years of neglect. The reason why this once Hollywoodian favorite was absent from the silver screen for so long is that in 2003 he was sexually assaulted by Philip Berk, the former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. This has made a deep impact on him, almost leading him to quit acting. Good thing he’s back in great company, the director Darren Aronofsky, and with an Oscar.

For those familiar with Aronofsky, you may know that he is no easy director. His films Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan and Mother! are all emotionally and even morally heavy. The most recent one, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, caused so much outrage in the audience to the point of dividing it between those who love the film for being so shocking, and those who hate and despise it for being so shocking. That’s Aronofsky.

With The Whale, there was all the controversy around not having a fat actor portraying the character Charlie, who suffers from class III obesity. I am definitely not going to address this here as there is already plenty of analyses focused on that. But apart from that, I have seen people outraged by the way Charlie is portrayed in the movie and how it does not address fatphobia. Well, it really doesn’t.

Unlike films such as To the Bone (2017), starring Lily Collins, The Whale is not about eating disorders per se. I will refrain from making comments about the first movie as I didn’t watch it, but it’s widely known that Collins herself had an eating disorder and playing a character with the same issue was challenging to her. In fact, she even lost weight for that role, about 9kg, which is quite problematic in many aspects.

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Lidia Zuin

Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD in Visual Arts. Researcher and essayist. Technical and science fiction writer.