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Fat Suit Fart Attack #1: The Whale
I Deserve $120,000 for Watching This Movie
[A note on The Whale: Severe trigger warning to the point of unwatchability for all fat people and disabled people and anyone with an eating disorder or anyone with trauma around food and body! Even my recap may be too much!1 I also wrote a more dignified, emotional piece about the experience of watching The Whale for the Guardian—it’ll be online on March 10 and in print on March 11. I’m really proud of it and I hope you’ll read it. Update: Here’s the Guardian piece!
This is ALSO the first edition of Fat Suit Fart Attack, a special paid-subscriber series I’m doing on fat suit movies—Shallow Hal, Austin Powers, Nutty Professor, etc. (feel free to leave requests in the comments). I’ll be releasing them occasionally in addition to our regularly scheduled Butt Newses and Buttcasts, so upgrade to paid if you want access! HOWEVER, I decided this piece is important (LOL, I’m serious!) and I want everyone to be able to read it, so I’ll be un-paywalling it on March 10 when the Guardian piece comes out. Become a paid subscriber today if you don’t want to wait. <3]
We open with an aerial shot of a lonely road cutting through Idaho farmland. A bus stops and some kid with a suitcase hops off. Right here? In the middle of this field? WTF, why? Drop him off in town! They have cities in Idaho, actually (kind of)! Why is there even a bus stop here?? This bus moment serves literally no purpose except, I’m assuming, to set up a contrast with the fat guy’s moist apartment where we’re about to spend the next hour and a half. Ah, to be young and thin with a suitcase near some corn! Truly the stuff of life. So sad for the poor indoor fats who only get to meet corn in SYRUP FORM.
Now we see a Zoom screen with a bunch of inexplicably hot community college students (bad casting! make them weird!) learning about writing from a black square. Why does the professor have his camera off, hmmmmm?? It’s probably just a broken webcam like he said, right? WRONGONGOGONGONGONGOBONGO!
We zoom into the black square and come out the other side and HOLY-LICKED-CLEAN-EMPTY-TUB-OF-MOLY! The professor was a fat masturbating guy with four hairs this whole time!!!!!!! No wonder he doesn’t want all those hot extras to see him—he looks like Meredith Vieira as Pigpen! He orgasms like Fatty McGee climbing the stairs and slurps his hand out of his elastic waistband with great effort but then unfortunately jizzing gives him a heart attack. Happens to me all the time. Then he starts doing something really weird, which is reading out loud from some shitty term paper about Moby-Dick, like that’s going to cure his heart attack, but unfortunately he is dying too hard to read it good. Oh no! Another tragic case of the obese succumbing to Jizzed-Too-Hard-Not-Enough-Moby-Dick Syndrome. The obese bring it on themselves, you know. It’s really sad!
Luckily a missionary comes to the door (he was the kid from the bus, if you care) and lets himself in and our main man, Charlie, wheezes that he needs this Moby-Dick paper read out loud to him STAT and the stakes are life or death. This is all within, like, the first 30 seconds of the movie. WHAT KIND OF PERSON IS THIS!?!? I’m supposed to relate to this, as a fat person? R U sure???????? I would relate more to a little toad using a mushroom as an umbrella! (Don’t u dare touch that idea, DARREN.)
Thomas, the missionary, says okay, I’ll do your weird thing, but maybe I should also call 911 since you seem to be actively dying? Charlie is like, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO I DON’T GO TO HOSPITALS,” and that’s fine, he is clearly competent to refuse care, but the narrative that fat people are the problem because we are too lazy/stubborn/ignorant to help ourselves by letting the system help us is a pretty entrenched and toxic one! (Could it be that there are reasons besides HUNGRY TRAUMA MAN MUST SNACK TO DEATH that fat people avoid engaging with the healthcare system? Hmmmm???)
Either way, a thin person barging into your space and telling you what to do? Feels familiar!
We’re told Charlie weighs 600 pounds, which the movie seems to consider an incomprehensibly large number but is in fact a completely legitimate number of pounds that lots of ordinary people weigh. Some of them have even survived masturbation!
Other reviews have mentioned the sound mix on this, so I’m not going to spend a bunch of time on it, but the LOUDNESS of CROAK GROAN SLURP CHEW DROOL MOAN CRUNCH throughout the film is very wow!!!!!
Charlie texts his best friend slash nurse slash bully, Liz, and she comes over to measure his blood pressure (bad) and his sweatiness level (TERMINAL).
Liz: “You’re wheezing.”
Charlie: “I always wheeze.”
Fat people: they always wheeze! And that’s the fat people guarantee!
Liz says that she hates thinking of Charlie shut up in this apartment all day and—I’m sorry, WHY IS THE MISSIONARY STILL THERE? A thin person invading your privacy and overstaying their non-welcome and lurking about and peeking at you wide-eyed while you discuss your medical information like you’re a sideshow freaque? Feeeeeeeels familiaaaaaaar!!!
Charlie DRAMATICALLY heaves himself up on to his walker to go to the bathroom, and Liz and the missionary are MOIST IN THE EYES about the horror of it, a thing The Whale does over and over and over and over and over and over—making a tragic spectacle out of the mundane, everyday use of mobility and accessibility aids, a.k.a. normal stuff disabled people use to live! Don’t cry, Mr. Aronofsky, sir! Walkers and grabbers and long-handled scrubbers aren’t sad or scary, they’re actually really helpful tools for people who need them! Are you upset when you see someone using stairs or a fork?
Liz tells Thomas that her evil dad is the head of his missionary church and it’s a bad church and Thomas should quit missionizing for them and leave Charlie alone because the church killed Charlie’s boyfriend and Charlie “probably won’t be here next week” anyhooz what on account of his extreme blumptiousness. Thomas, unfazed, is like, “Our message is a message of hope for people of all faiths,” including PIZZA RELIGION!!!!
Liz says she’s going to stab Charlie if he doesn’t stop saying sorry, so HE SAYS, “Go ahead! What’s it gonna do? My internal organs are two feet in at least!” and let me tell you my jaw is STILL on the floor of the theater. What a wildly violent thing to say! This is a joke newsletter but I have been disturbed by this line all week! Fat people can goof around how we want about/amongst ourselves (for instance I like to say that I have BORGERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER because I can’t stop eatin’ borgers!), but can you imagine being a thin person and writing that joke for a thin man in a fat suit to deliver (and don’t you dare come at me with “Brendan Fraser is chunky”)? To “joke” that you can stab fat people and we won’t die? If I get stabbed it’s Darren Aronofsky’s fault! Put it in my Dateline! Attn: Josh Mankiewicz!!!!!
I feel like I should make sure to say something supportive and nice about Brendan Fraser, who seems like a truly sweet if slightly cloying man and for whom I do have quite a lot of nostalgia, but he’s winning an Oscar for this for sure. Does he really need me to make him feel okay? Is he even a paid Butt News subscriber? I will say that it’s clear he believes he is doing right by Charlie, he is emotionally invested in this character, and he is good at acting. I believe he does see Charlie’s humanity, as much as there is of it. But sometimes that’s the problem! Dominant-culture people think they can do whatever they want with marginalized people’s stories as long as they feel like they’re being nice about it, and then they are indignant/wounded when we say no thank you! Stop it!
Liz reluctantly brings Charlie his CHICKEN BUCKET and it’s OM NOM NOM GROMPH MOMPH time! She sits with him and they watch TV while he gromphs the drumsticks. Liz cares about Charlie even though he is gross. If only more fat people would appreciate generosity like that!
This movie makes me want to binge eat! Food never insults me like this.
Charlie goes to his crusty bedroom and reads his precious Moby-Dick essay one more time while glugging from a two-liter bottle of bed-Pepsi. We get to hear his favorite part of the essay: “The whale doesn’t have any emotions, he’s just a poor big animal.” As a fat person who has actually read Moby-Dick, even the “boring chapters,” THAT IS NOT WHAT MOBY-DICK IS ABOUT OR WHAT MOBY DICK THE WHALE IS LIKE AT ALL. Obviously we’re supposed to draw some parallel between Moby Dick the actual whale and Charlie the human whale, but, like, why? What shallow fucking bullshit! Can you even map one on top of the other at all? Has anyone ever read Moby-Dick and thought, “wow, what a pathetic loser” about the whale? The ungraspable phantom of life himself???? Thin people don’t think of fat people as powerful and inscrutable phantoms—they’re absolutely positive they can scrute everything about us, our “everything” being CHEESY BUGLES! Hence this movie!!!!! Don’t talk about my favorite book, DARREN. I don’t come to your house and explain The Mystery Method wrong!
Anyway, then Charlie uses his cursed rusty mobility aids to turn out the light and go to sleep. Spooky!
The next morning, Charlie sits at his kitchen counter grading papers. He opens the drawer on his left—it’s full of HEALTHY fruit and nut bars. Yuck! He opens the drawer on his right—CANDY CANDY CANDY!!!!!!! So fucking insulting, man. You know that’s thin people’s entire concept of why fat people are fat. That all day every day we’re just glancing back and forth between an apple and an ice cream sundae with sweat bullets rocketing off our fat foreheads like that meme of the guy choosing between the two buttons.
Anyway, Charlie picks a Three Musketeers, which is a continuity error. Fat people have better taste in candy than that! But then a shadow passes o’er his face and he THROWS it back in the drawer, then Googles “congestive heart failure obesity prognosis.” The computer says sorry u gonna die, so he slams it shut in despair and then goes BUCKWILD on the Three Musketeers. He gobbles Oliver Platt, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, AND Chris O’Donnell!
There’s a bird outside the window, reminding Charlie of… delicious worms? He gets emotional looking at the bird, then takes a hot shower using a helpful long-handled scrubber. What is the issue here? Seems like this man could have a perfectly fine quality of life if Darren Aronofsky would just leave him alone!
Charlie gets dressed and combs his hair to impress the bird, but then his estranged teenage daughter, Ellie, comes over instead because she got suspended from school for being a bitch. Wow, she fucking sucks! I don’t care if your parents got divorced! Don’t talk to people like this!
Charlie: “I just thought that maybe we could spend some time together.”
Ellie: “I don’t want to spend time with you. You’re disgusting.”
This is humanizing fat people? Being mean? Pass!
How do fat suits work? Does Brendan Fraser have to wear individual little sausage tubes on each finger? I can’t stop thinking about how many awards the visual effects people (or whatever department makes fat suits) are going to win for this. It’s like if I got a Nobel Prize for drawing a mean picture of your grandma. Also, for the record, I know the fat suit was really expensive, but it looks weird! It doesn’t hang right! He looks like the mascot for an NBA team called the Wichita Big Pile of Raw Chicken. Hmm, if only there was a way to depict a fat person in a movie without an expensive flappy silicon slug bag!
Ellie does exposition, telling Charlie about how he walked out on them when she was eight so he could fuck one of his students. Yeah, HE KNOWS! She says she’ll keep hanging out with him if he does her homework for her. He says SURE and that he will also throw in one hundred and twenty thousand doll-hairs (WHAT!!!!!!) and she does not think that’s weird at all. Charlie explains that it’s his life savings and that he doesn’t need it because “I only spend money on food.” Kill me. I, too, refuse care.
Before Ellie leaves she is like, “stand up and walk over to me” and Charlie reaches for his walker and she’s like NO WALKER and he goes “Honey, I can’t really [FUCKING WALK!!!!!!!]…” and she YELLS “SHUT UP. COME OVER HERE.” So then we have to watch as he tries to haul himself off the couch without his walker and falls down and injures himself and screams and Ellie looks at him with disgust. And I think you’re supposed to think that, like, yes, Ellie is being horrible, but also on some level he is letting her down by not being able to walk across the room to her unassisted and TRULY WHAT THE FUCK. A lot of times thin people’s “compassion” comes with a side of “but you have to admit you shouldn’t have let yourself get like this!” Oh no, he has chosen delicious gravy over his own child!
To cope with his life of pure, uninterrupted emotional abuse, Charlie orders some pizzas from his regular pizza place and tells the pizza boy to leave it outside and grab the money from the mailbox because he cannot bear to be seen. Like a pizza boy has never seen a fat person before! The pizza boy calls through the door, “Everything okay in there?” He’s very concerned, because no human man could possibly eat such a demonic, medical amount of pizza!
Liz brings Charlie a stress measuring machine so he can learn how to breathe less fatly. She notices the daughter’s homework and is like wtf was that bitch doing here I hate her???? and for once, Liz, we agree. Charlie’s like I wanted to see her and Liz goes, “She shouldn’t be around you when you’re like this,” meaning FAT AND MOSTLY DEAD. Charlie’s stress machine goes berserk and so do I! Charlie says he invited Ellie over because she posted a picture of a dead dog on her Facebook and “I’m just worried she’s forgotten what an amazing person she is.” Can’t lose what was never there, my guy!
MUNCH MONCH MONCH goes Charlie on his big sandwich! Oh no! He starts to choke on his yummy hoagie!2 He’s being torpedoed by his own submarine! What a betrayal! Liz finally notices and teams up with the couch to do the Fat Heimlich.
Liz: “Goddamnit, Charlie, what is wrong with you!? Chew your food like a normal human being!”
Charlie: “I’m sowwy.”
Science Fact: No thin person has ever choked on food. Or eaten food, for that matter!
Then, after Charlie is breathing again, Liz PICKS UP THE DEVIL’S HOAGIE FROM THE FLOOR AND GIVES IT BACK TO HIM AND HE KEEPS EATING IT.
I know nobody gives a fuck about fat people, but since this is my platform I’m going to say it one more time as clearly as I can: It is really bad—arguably immoral—for a dominant-group person to make a piece of art about a marginalized person that reinforces (revels in!!!) harmful stereotypes and stigmas about that marginalized group (starring a dominant-group person in makeup and prosthetics, no less). Even if there are individual people in the world who fulfill some of those stereotypes! It doesn’t matter! Of course marginalizations aren’t 1:1 comparable, so I want to be careful about false equivalencies, but try to imagine this movie with a different marginalized group as its target. That might be more recognizably horrifying for you, if you’re struggling to understand fat people’s anger about The Whale!
Ellie comes back and Charlie tries to help her with her Walter Whitman essay and she’s a huge bitch about it, of course: “You’re exactly like my teachers.” Yes, he is literally a teacher and you ASKED HIM to help you with your school.
He accuses her of not having read “Song of Myself” and she’s like actually I DID read it and I thought it was BULLSHIT and Charlie is like, whoa, she’s so cool, is this Hunter S. Thompson over here?? “Now that would actually make an interesting essay!” NO IT WOULDN’T. Are we supposed to think no one has ever critiqued Walt Whitman before? I understand that in context Charlie is a man trying to encourage his child to think critically and who knows whether or not he thinks her MORE LIKE WALT SHITMAN idea is actually an interesting POV, but this whole scene has such a sunglasses-emoji vibe! SHUT UP!!!
Ellie asks Charlie why he gained all that weight and he said, “Someone close to me passed away and it had an effect on me.” Okay, sure, maybe. Is it that simple? Do you know what I mean when I say that fat people aren’t allowed to have nuanced relationships with our own bodies? You have to either be like “yes I am powerless before ham and I deserve punishment” or “no I’m actually perfectly healthy and happy and I only eat beautiful salads.” Pure penance or pure defiance. But our lives are just as complex as anyone else’s! Fat people should be able to say “yeah I have weird shit about food” or “yes my body hurts” without validating trolls’ meanest fictions about us! JUST LEAVE US ALONE UNLESS WE ASK.
Ellie sees the fruit Charlie left out for the bird and is like WOW! Fruit? In this house? My dad interacting with an entity other than cheese?? I guess there’s more to this fat bitch than I thought!
While Charlie is in the bathroom crying (really), Thomas shows up again and Ellie introduces herself: “What’s more surprising—that a gay guy has a daughter, or that someone actually found his penis?” Wow, once again, thank you so much to Darren Aronofsky and playwright Samuel D. Hunter for spending TEN YEARS on this extremely humanizing screenplay! I feel seen, unlike my own genitals!!!
Charlie and Thomas have a conversation about Thomas’s stupid Bible pamphlets.
Charlie: “I know all this… I read the Bible.”
Thomas: “Did you like it?”
Charlie: “I thought it was devastating.”
Thomas: “God hasn’t turned his back on you. If you accept him he’ll release you from this, free you from this body.” [Ed.: go fuck urself!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]
Charlie: “I don’t want to be saved!”
But now that you mention it, Charlie says, “There is something you can do for me” and the missionary thinks he means HOMOSEX. Charlie is like LOL NO YOU LIL FREAK! He meant pick something up that he dropped on the floor and can’t reach with his grabber!
Liz brings Charlie a “fat guy wheelchair” because one of the ER doctors she works with said that Charlie should get out and move around a little bit. A novel idea no fat person has ever heard before! Charlie asks how much the chair cost and Liz says it was free—“we ordered it for a patient.”
Charlie: “What happened to the patient?”
It’s a rhetorical question, because he knows and you know and I know that the patient DIED OF 2 MANY HOG DOGS!
Charlie’s “best friend” Liz makes a beeping noise as he backs up into the chair. I am, like, clinging to sanity at this point. Like, I get it. The POINT is that even Liz, who loves him, is mean to Charlie about his body. I’m sure the filmmakers call that realism. Shining a light on fatphobia, even. But to what end? WHY CREATE THIS? YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO! WE ALREADY HAVE THIN PEOPLE BEING MEAN TO US!
Liz takes Thomas outside to yell at him about Christianity. Thomas says he’s from Iowa and came to Idaho to do missionary work, which is like trying to open a KFC franchise in the bathroom of a Popeye’s (to be fair, Charlie would love that!). Liz says, “[Charlie] doesn’t need this right now” and Thomas says, “I disagree” and then is like “I really think that God brought me here right when Charlie needs it the most” and Liz is like “I’m the only one who can help him.” We love two thin people doing a break-out sesh to discuss what would be best for a fat person who has made his wishes perfectly clear!
Thomas says that, with his help, God will give Charlie the spiritual guidance to finally go to the hospital and get his fat ass defibrillated. Then Liz tells a story about how her brother was a missionary and their dad tried to force him to marry a church girl but he fell in love with someone else—I WONDER WHO—so their parents disowned him and he killed himself. “That was Alan, the love of Charlie’s life, and my brother.” They worked ten years on this twist.
After Liz and Thomas are gone, Charlie wheels himself into the clean and perfect guest bedroom, which I’m assuming used to be his bedroom with Alan? But the light is burned out and the chair is too wide for the door so he can’t go in. Do thin people think that fat people just sit perfectly still in darkness all the time?
The pizza guy comes again. Pizza guy through the door: “I’m Dan. I’ve been coming here for a while now—just thought you’d like to know my name.” It’s like Dan’s his dealer. Charlie is slammin’ some ‘za when he notices his daughter’s bitchy notebook and grabs it with his grabber.
“This apartment smells
This notebook is ret*rded
I hate everyone”
Charlie realizes it’s a haiku and laughs so hard he has another heart attack and has to pound his chest like Chris Farley in Bill Swerski’s Superfans to get it going again. Ellie comes back and Charlie tells her to keep writing in her notebook. She says he can’t throw her away and then just come back and expect to parent her, and he says he wanted to be there for her but her mom wouldn’t let him. Ellie says he could have at least TRIED to be a part of her life and he says, “Who would want me to be a part of their life?” Well, Dan does, for one thing! Give Dan a chance!
Ellie says she’ll make Charlie a sandwich but it has to be small and he’s not allowed to have mayonnaise and that’s an automatic why I oughtta! Charlie falls asleep with the sandwich on his stomach and Ellie blows weed smoke right in his face. MA’AM THIS MAN HAS RESPIRATORY AILMENTS. Do I have to state explicitly that it is actually okay to weigh 600 pounds and it does not give your family members license to murder you??? Apparently so, because THEN:
Ellie snoops around while Charlie “sleeps.” She finds the squalid fat bedroom and the museum-quality thin bedroom. Thomas comes back and observes that Charlie is unconscious. Ellie tells him, “I ground up some Ambien and put it in his sandwich.”
EVERY TIME I THINK THIS MOVIE CAN’T GET MORE FUCKED UP!
Jeffrey Dahmer? More like JEFFREY DAUGHTER!3
Thomas reveals that he used to have a BONE-CHILLING POT ADDICTION but he has been saved by Jesus. Ellie threatens that if Thomas leaves the apartment and stops hanging out with her she will murder Charlie using the rest of the Ambien. WTF is this movie. I get that Ellie’s anger at Charlie is part of the plot, but even so, is this supposed to be an understandable way to treat your fat relative? Do thin people watch this and think, “oh ho ho, it’s a little extreme, but I get her motivation”? I do not get her motivation!!!
What is the purpose of telling a story?
What is a film?
Ellie tells Thomas, “If you don’t take a hit I’m going to call the police and tell them that you tried to rape me.” Sure, why not. Throw that in too. A real thing girls do.
Thomas agrees, and now he is fiending for MORE HITS! Ellie takes a picture of him smoking Lucifer’s parsley. She asks Thomas if he finds her attractive, then says she doesn’t find him attractive or intelligent or interesting, and I confess I did lol. THEN she busts him for not actually being from New Life Church—she did some sleuthing and found out they don’t even do missionary anymore! Dog-style only! This is supposed to be some kind of Big Twist, but it truly doesn’t impact the plot at all! Who cares!?
Thomas confesses that here’s what actually happened: He went on a mission at his home church in Iowa to try and escape the dangers of pot addiction, but he bailed because his mission leader didn’t respect his incredible ideas. The mission leader just wanted him to hand out pamphlets! So he went rogue and ditched the pamphlets and just started door-knocking to bother people about Jesus freestyle and he LOVED IT. His leader found out and got mad at him in front of everyone so he stole $2k in petty cash and took a bus to Idaho to do his OWN mission. Now he’s almost broke and he hasn’t saved anyone. Cool. Who cares.
Liz shows up with Ellie’s mom, Mary, who is mad. Liz gives Charlie—miraculously not dead—an oxygen tank so he can recover from Ambien poisoning and smoke inhalation. NO ONE EVER GETS MAD AT ELLIE ABOUT THIS.
Mary asks Ellie how much money Charlie offered her to hang out with him, and Liz is like wtf are you talking about, this guy is poor as hell. Mary says LOL he has at least $100k in dogecoin!!!! And Liz is like RUFKM YOU COULD HAVE HAD ANYTHING YOU NEEDED THIS WHOLE TIME SUCH AS HEALTH INSURANCE AND A PAID IN-HOME HEALTH AIDE????? I HAVE BEEN SO STRESSED, NOT TO MENTION WORKING FOR FREE!
Charlie starts crying and is like, “B-b-b-b-b-b-b-ut that money is for Ellie!”
Liz reminds Charlie that one time her truck broke down and she had to walk through the snow to bring him his meatballs!!!!! He’s like “I offered to fix it for you,” and she says that she refused because she thought he only had $700!!!!!!! Honestly, Charles, I’m usually on your side, but that is pretty bad! Liz storms out.
Ellie’s like “I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU!” and maybe hits him? I wasn’t looking. But that would be on brand. She leaves too. Now it’s just Charlie and Mary. She looks at him and says, “Jesus, Charlie,” with disgust. “I never knew you were doing this to yourself.” I deserve $120,000 for watching this movie.
Mary says they can’t give Ellie the money because she’ll spend it all on face tattoos and ponies. LOL, same. (Also, I agree! It is not good parenting to give your 16-year-old $120,000!) Then she gets nostalgic about their sham marriage and tells Charlie she misses his positivity and also his cooking. If there’s two things about fat people it’s that we’re jolly and we love beef!
Mary says she was very embarrassed that she had to tell people Charlie left her for a MAN, but the real reason she kept Ellie away from him was because she was worried that Ellie would both physically and emotionally murder him: “Charlie, she’s evil.” Cosign!!! Send her to boarding school in prison! As proof she shows him Ellie’s Facebook, where Ellie posted a picture of Charlie and wrote, “There’ll be a grease fire in hell when he starts to burn.” Great. Here’s the thing. Charlie does not even have to be fat to make this story work! He could be a plain old size large depressed recluse. Playwright Samuel D. Hunter even told the New York Times:
“I actually didn’t start The Whale thinking that the main character would be super-obese… I wanted to write a play that was essentially about empathy and honesty and human connection, so deciding that he weighed over 600 pounds was my attempt to put both the other characters and the audience at a distance in the beginning.”
GO! FUCK! YOURSELF! So you admit it’s a non-essential plot device, just a tool you thought would “distance” the audience from Charlie (tells us a lot about who your play is for!), and because you chose to include it, we have to sit through multiple graphic fantasies of violence against fat bodies? Hunter is one of those thin people who thinks that having been a chubby kid gives them some ownership over the stories of fat adults. “The feelings never go away.” That’s what they always say. And, okay, I believe you. The feelings never go away. I’m truly sorry. But have the dignity and medical care and abundant pairs of pants in your size arrived? Oh, they have?????? Then IT DOESN’T TRANSFER.
Mary says she’s sorry about Charlie’s “friend.” She saw Alan once in the Walmart parking lot and he looked sick because he was dying of Christianity withdrawal. She wanted to be mean to him for stealing her man but instead she just helped him carry stuff to his car. Charlie wheezes, sadly. Mary listens to his wheezing.
“That was the first time we’ve all been together in nine years,” Charlie says. He reminisces about a time when they all went to the Oregon coast and he went swimming in the ocean. She hugs him and cries and this one little moment is kind of sweet. But don’t worry! I’m not getting soft! Then this happens:
Mary: “You sound awful.”
Charlie: “I’m dying, Mary.”
Mary: “Fuck you!”
Charlie starts sobbing and says he has to believe Ellie is a good person and not a demon because, “I need to know that I’ve done one thing right in my life!” Mary’s like, “I raised her, you’re giving her the money, that’s all we can do,” which, I’m not a parenting expert but I do not think is true! Team Ellie for just this one brief moment! Seems like she would rather have a dad than $120,000 (SOME OF WHICH BELONGS TO LIZ, BY THE WAY).
Up next: fat man dozes in wheelchair to OMINOUS MUSIC!
Charlie checks on the plate of fruit he left out for his bird. (Fat hack: befriend a bird and you never have to eat your vegetables!) The plate is mysteriously broken! Did Ellie do it? Is it a metaphor? I have no clue!
Dan shows up with MORE MEATZZA-PIZZAS to frolf down Charlie’s mega-esophagus. Charlie goes through the usual routine (leave the pizzas outside, money in the mailbox, yes, I’m FINE, etc.), but when Charlie steps out to nab his pies, Dan is still there! He’s lurked and slurked behind to catch a glimpse of the beast—cursed sceadugenga, bigger than any man, an unnatural birth called Grendel by the country people!!!!
Dan is HORRIFIED and CANNOT BELIEVE HIS EYES and LITERALLY RUNS AWAY. Like, I understand why people in Hollywood are freaked out by Charlie—they haven’t seen a fat person since Harvey Weinstein got arrested—but I just feel like Dan, who delivers pizza in rural Idaho for a living, would have a little more street smarts!
Now a traumatized Charlie has to EMOTIONALLY EAT THE PIZZA PIES REAL FAST LIKE A PIZZA MONSTER. He sharts ranch dressing on to a three-stack of pizzas and makes a Cheeto sandwich on the side and shuffles it all like a deck of cards and absolutely houses it and the music is PHANTOM OF THE OPERA FULL PIPE ORGAN TERROR. Then he projectile vomits and cries. This movie… cares about me? Okey doke once again!
Charlie has reached his breaking point. He e-mails his students and it’s no more mister nice square! “Fuck these essays, fuck the readings. JUST WRITE ME SOMETHING HONEST!” Hey, Charlie, why don’t you write something honest? Like “don’t ever talk to me like that again” to everyone you know?
Thomas shows back up and is like hey ur daughter sent pics of me smoking weed to my parents, and Charlie is like oh sorry, but Thomas is like no, they said it’s okay u stole the money from the church and u should come home, son, so now he gets to go home. All thanks to Ellie being a psychopath! Charlie’s like… ur welcome?????
As a parting gift, Thomas reads to Charlie from Alan’s old bible and we see written in the bible that Alan’s name is Alan Grant? Did I read that right? Like the famous dinosaur scientist from Jurassic Park? Once again I am asking are you sure you worked on this screenplay for TEN YEARS??
Thomas tells Charlie he has great news: “I get it now!” He says he figured out that Alan died because he chose gay love of the flesh over spiritual love of the church! LOL WHAT A DICK.
Charlie’s like, FYI, “I wasn’t always this big… Alan loved me. He thought I was beautiful.” YOU DO NOT HAVE TO JUSTIFY YOURSELF TO THIS NAZI CHILD, CHARLIE. Then Charlie narrates his whole love story to Thomas, even the sex parts, which Thomas does NOT LIKE. “We would make love. Do you find that disgusting?”
Charlie says he hopes there’s no afterlife so Alan can’t look down from thin heaven and see “what I’ve done to myself,” a.k.a. the weird brown patch on his back and the mold in between his skin folds and the infected ulcers on his ass. That’s literally what he says in the movie—it’s not me exaggerating for effect! That’s what Darren and Samuel wrote for Brendan to say! Sorry, my guys, but fat people’s butt troubles are an in-group conversation!4
Thomas runs away.
Now Charlie has to get back on the Zoom again but unfortunately he’s been fired for saying “fuck essays.” LOL, which community college nerd fucking narced???? You loooooooove writing essays so much you have to be a cop about it??!? Before he leaves, Charlie reads the “honest” things the kids wrote and acts like they’re sooooooooo profound even though they all just say stuff like “my life is boring” and “my parents want me to have a job.”
Charlie is so moved that he goes, “You wrote these amazing, honest things… You’ve all been so honest with me. I just want to be honest with you too.” And then he TURNS ON HIS WEBCAM and SHOWS THEM HIS HUGE FACE AND BODY! All the students lose it and they’re grimacing and cowering before him and taking pictures of the screen, LOL, even though literally it just looks like a regular guy???????? It’s a Zoom square! It looks like a close-up of a guy’s face! No one would have any reaction to this! If there’s one thing this movie does perfectly, it’s trick thin people into telling on themselves about how uncomfortable they are around fat people!
Charlie angles his laptop camera down and around so his students can see his whoooooooole tummy while they scream and vomit5 (IT JUST LOOKS LIKE A BLURRY GRAY T-SHIRT), then tells them that college doesn't matter, ONLY HONESTY MATTERS, and THROWS his laptop in a rage! Signaling, I guess, that he doesn't need a job anymore because he's ready to go track down Alan on Heaven Grindr?
Then Liz comes back and reveals that, LMAO, what happened to Alan is that he starved himself to death (kind of), and that’s why now Charlie has to EAT himself to death. Wooooooow, who wrote that brilliant juxtaposition? Grover???6 Is this supposed to be profound? It's less nuanced than when people say “the terrorists hate our freedom”! Actually, you know what? This detail with Alan is the central problem with this entire movie: Being thin is not the opposite of being fat!!!!!!!! STARVING IS NOT THE OPPOSITE OF EATING. Having a body is a complex state!
Liz is like, “I can’t believe you’re putting me through this again,” then [beat], “I got you two meatball subs, extra cheese.” Another clue a real fat person didn’t write this movie: any person with good taste in food would get extra MEATBALLS, not extra cheese! (Actually any self-respecting fat person would order from a sub shop that can be trusted to properly calibrate its ratio of sandwich ingredients, but Charlie is in Butthole, Idaho so I concede that he may have to compromise.)
Charlie: “I’m not going to the hospital.”
Liz: “I’m not asking you to.”
Then they clarify that actually Alan starved himself ALMOST to death and then jumped off a bridge. Jumping! The most thin-privilege way to die!
Liz says, “I don’t think I believe anyone can save anyone,” and Charlie’s like well Ellie saved Thomas by sending weed pics to his mom, so CHECKMATE. There’s no way Liz knows what any of that means! She hasn’t been watching the movie when she’s off-screen, guys!
He says, “She was trying to help him. She just wanted to send him home.” NO, SHE WASN’T! SHE WAS TRYING TO BE A DICK. Then he goes, “Do you ever get the feeling that people are incapable of not caring? People are amazing.” This line is the central thing of The Whale and also the reason Aronofsky thinks he couldn’t possibly be doing anything wrong—Charlie is just soooooooooooo nice and believes in people soooooooooooooo much, even though he himself has a bad, gross, self-destructive life. It’s giving noble savage! Is it okay for me to say that?
Ellie comes barging in and is like WHAT DID YOU DO and Liz is like hey don’t yell at him he’s dying. Ellie is mad because she turned in the essay Charlie wrote for her and her teacher gave her an F-plus! He tells her to read the essay out loud and turns out it’s the famous Moby-Dick essay! Ellie wrote it in 8th grade and Charlie has been obsessed with it ever since! NOBODY READS MOBY DICK IN 8TH GRADE YOU FUCKING DUMBASSES.
Charlie: “It’s the best essay I’ve ever read.”
Shots fired at your college students, which I like, but shut up! No it’s not!
Charlie tells Ellie that she’s amazing, and “I’m sorry for leaving you. I was in love and I left you behind… This essay is amazing. [Ed. no it’s not.] This essay is you.” Then he starts to die, right in front of his already traumatized daughter. I am feeling like this is actually not that nice!
Charlie: “You’re perfect, you’ll be happy.”
Ellie: “You fat fucking asshole!”
Now he wants her to read the Moby-Dick essay out loud while he dies, which feels… abusive? As she reads, he takes his oxygen tank off and hauls himself up off the couch and plonks across the room with the gravitas of Fat Bastard (way more empowering representation imo—FB was really strong and he had hobbies and a lust for life!).
Then Charlie flies away to heaven where presumably Alan is like “ew ur fat.”
Normally I write Butt News in hopes that people will watch the movie of the week and read along for fun, but I can’t in good conscience tell you to watch this rude, bad movie. This is more of an “I watched it so you don’t have to” Butt News—a grasp for catharsis, just for me, having watched The Whale in a moment when, coincidentally in my personal life, I’ve been recognizing anew how violently I’ve been robbed of any natural relationship with food and my body. I am angry right now—about the way that fat people are treated, about the way that I’ve been treated, about the vanishingly small likelihood that I will ever recover. And along came The Whale, a truly madly deeply stupid movie that offered a perfect opportunity for me to do my #1 favorite non-food coping mechanism: making fun of the things that hurt me and being a huge bitch about it so that I have all the power and they are very embarrassed!!! Try it!
I’m sorry, fat people can’t even get credit for being good at eating sandwiches??
Again, WE KNOW HOW TO CHEW. Do you know how bad pills taste!? You think Charlie wouldn’t have noticed a tablespoon of Ambien dust in his dry sandwich?? ARE FAT PEOPLE FOOD EXPERTS OR NOT?
Okay but maybe Darren Aronofsky does weigh 600 pounds but people don’t know it because he’s 9’4”.
This one is an exaggeration, BUT BARELY!
Just kidding—Grover would never!!!! (Elmo? MAYBE.)