The Whale depicts the last moments of severely obese Charlie who tries to reconnect with his daughter in an attempt to redeem the past.
What issues are covered in The Whale?
When his daughter was 8 years old, Charlie left his wife to be with his gay lover, Alan. Their happiness didn’t last long as Alan’s religious parents cut ties with him which made him commit suicide. Due to his life choices and unfortunate circumstances, Charlie experiences regret and suffers from other mental health issues:
After Alan’s death, Charlie’s grief turned into depression and led him to develop a binge eating disorder. His unhealthy diet is a way for him to deal with negative emotions. In one of the scenes, he engages in binge eating after an upsetting situation while being aware that it will worsen his heart condition and might be fatal. Unlike many other movies, The Whale captures all sides of the disorder. Not only the comfort found in overeating but also physical reactions such as choking on food and vomiting. Charlie’s self-destructive behaviour is heartbreaking to watch but it helps the viewers understand his struggles better.
In his last moments, Charlie reminisces on the day he spent on the beach with his daughter Ellie. It wasn’t just one of the happiest moments he’s experienced but also one of the last times he didn’t have to miss out on life because of obesity.
The Whale movie emphasises that obese people aren’t affected by their weight just on the physical level but also on the emotional one. Charlie refuses to go to the hospital to have his heart condition treated insisting that the money in his bank account is meant for Ellie. However, viewers can assume that he avoids healthcare because of the stigma. It’s also likely that deep down he believes he doesn’t deserve help. Even though he never looks at himself in the mirror or displays obvious signs of self-hate, Charlie is aware of his size. For instance, when he teaches English online he makes sure the webcam is turned off and leaves payment for delivery outside the door.
Unhealthy coping skills
For Charlie, food is a form of escapism from his life: binge eating is how he copes with grief and depression. While it’s Charlie who is the centre of the story, all the characters have their own struggles. For example, it might seem like Ellie is simply going through a rebellious phase. However, her intense hatred for the whole world comes from the inability to accept that she was abandoned by her father at such a young age. She acts out because anger is her coping mechanism; if she can stay angry, maybe she won’t feel hurt.
Why has the movie made a positive impact on the viewers?
The Whale movie is a depiction of how mental illness can influence physical health, which can be validating to see. Obesity is commonly misunderstood and many believe that gaining weight can only be attributed to laziness. In reality, mental health problems are often to blame. This can also feel relatable to people who don’t struggle with their weight but whose mental health affects physical health in many other ways. For example, those who experience nausea due to anxiety or whose trauma contributes to chronic pain.
How does the Whale make us feel as an audience?
The Whale might leave you with mixed emotions. The topic in combination with sombre cinematography is far from uplifting and might be triggering to people with similar experiences.
However, the movie might also fill you with hope due to Charlie’s optimism about the world. Despite being described as disgusting by most people in his life, he sees good in everyone. Even though Ellie does nothing but disrespects him, Charlie constantly worries that ‘she’s forgotten what an amazing person she is’. At some point, he says, ‘Do you ever get the feeling that people are incapable of not caring?’. Interestingly, everyone else seems to have the opposite outlook. In the end, Charlie achieves salvation by making Ellie believe that she’s worthy and that she can have a good life. It’s inspiring that despite being unhappy, Charlie has faith in other people. It might make you think, he gave up but maybe there’s hope for me.
What if you can relate to those issues?
It’s estimated that 1.25 million people of all genders, backgrounds and ages suffer from an eating disorder in the UK. The most effective way to overcome it is by receiving psychological treatment. At Therapy in London, you can speak to a range of experienced professionals who will be happy to help. It’s never too late to get better.