Jan 29, 2023

I Felt Saddest Of All When I Read The Boring Chapters

The Whale
A24 (2022)
For most of my movie-going life, I haven't been able to understand the public's fascination with award shows.  They're important to the people who work in the industry and to their friends and family, but I don't see the point in debating who deserves Best Picture or Album Of The Year with other fans.  I wouldn't go so far to say that I don't care at all, but I don't get a vote and it doesn't influence what I like or don't like.  The most it's ever been to me is a mildly interesting piece of trivia.

Having said all that, I think that this film might have opened my eyes to why fans can find themselves getting into awards season, because Brendan Fraser absolutely deserves to win Best Actor at the Academy Awards.  His performance in The Whale was of the most intense things I have ever seen on the big screen, and there isn't a trophy in this world that's big enough to do it justice.

When I was a teenager, there was no one in Hollywood that I thought was cooler than Brendan Fraser.  I first saw him in a movie when I was 12 years old and my dad, stepmom, stepsister and I went to see Encino Man in theaters, and I walked out of the theater wanting to be this dude.  He was funny, good looking, and he looked like he was having the time of his life on that screen.

My appreciation for this dude grew every time that I saw one of his movies.  He was incredible in the lead role of School Ties as a Jewish teenager from Scranton who earns a football scholarship from an elite prep school and endures antisemitic attacks from the other students.  He was also excellent in With Honors, which is a much better movie than it's given credit for (and has one of the best soundtracks of any film from the 90's), and I enjoyed his performances in The Scout, George Of The Jungle, Blast From The Past and The Mummy.  However, the role that he played in the 90's that really spoke to the teenage me was Chaz Darby in the 1994 comedy Airheads; a nerdy kid who got the hell out of his hometown to go somewhere where nobody knew him so that he could start a band and become a rock star.  You couldn't have written a character that the 14 year old me wished that he could be more than that.

Then the 2000's happened and it seemed like Brendan Fraser went from being one of the biggest stars in the world to nearly disappearing altogether.  The only things I remember seeing him in throughout my adult life was a role in Crash and the starring role in Journey To The Center Of The Earth, the latter of which we saw at the drive-in during its initial run.  The reason for his disappearance didn't become clear for many years until Mr. Fraser spoke out publicly that he was sexually assaulted by a powerful movie executive who had him blacklisted from Hollywood.  In the years that followed, his physical and mental health took a turn for the worse, and he gained quite a bit of weight in the process.

If there's one way that I can definitely relate to Mr. Fraser as a human being, it's in the effect that mental health can have on your weight.  Although neither he nor I have even come close to the weight of the character that he plays in The Whale, I can tell you that I have definitely been in the headspace that his character was in toward the end of the film.

I'm not fat because of a genetic issue or because this is my natural body type.  I was as skinny as a rail from elementary school all the way through high school, but my mental health was never really in what you would call a good place.  I've drank and used drugs in my life, but neither ever gave me the dopamine hit that I got from food, so food became my drug of choice.  When I was old enough to make my own money and go out and get food whenever I wanted, I packed on the pounds to the point where I was over 300 pounds when I was 25 years old.  I managed to get my life back on track in my late 20's by cleaning up my act and returning to college, and I lost almost half of my total body weight.  I made it down to 159 pounds when I was 29 years old, and I did it in a pretty healthy way.  No diet pills, no bulimic behaviors, no starving myself, and no exercising to an unhealthy degree... just moderate exercise and a commitment to eliminating any form of recreational eating.  I ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and that was it.  I didn't even really limit what I would allow myself to eat for meals, but I did limit the quantity to one plate of food.  I put on some of the weight in my early 30's when I allowed myself to eat snacks and desserts again, and I found that my natural weight when I'm not dieting or binge eating is around 180.  Then my grandfather passed away, and I started binging again.

For the past ten years, I've bounced back and forth between 220 and 280 pounds, and the weight gain is entirely due to binge eating.  When I'm in a good place mentally and don't feel the urge to binge, I tend to drop the extra pounds pretty quickly and get closer to a healthy weight, but when my mental health is suffering, I eat to a degree that is absolutely ridiculous.  I can say that I've never gone to the excess that Charlie goes to in The Whale (when you see the film, you'll know what scene I'm talking about), but I've torn through three or four Burger King Triple Stackers and then finished it off with an entire box of Tastycakes and a pint of Ben & Jerry's in a single evening.  I'd do even more damage at a place like the Old Country Buffet or at an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant.  The real problem is that this kind of eating becomes compulsive.  A healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner doesn't feel like enough after a week of binge eating, so even after I'd make a conscious choice to put a stop to it, I'd find myself constantly snacking throughout the day in between meals, so the end result of calories that I'd consume in a 24 hour period worked out to being just about the same as when I'd binge.  It's a god damned miracle that I never did any serious or permanent damage to myself (knock on wood).

The Whale addresses the issue of binge eating through its main character in a way that is honest, heartfelt and thought-provoking.  It has gotten a fair amount of criticism from some people who feigned outrage that the movie did not cast a 600 pound actor in the starring role, or who claimed that this movie somehow dehumanizes or mocks obese people.  Quite frankly, I'm of the opinion that these critics can cram their phony outrage straight up their ass.  The movie is not disrespectful in any way, shape or form, and the current trend of complaining about actors who portray characters who don't match their real life is absolutely ridiculous.  It's acting.  The entire craft is built on people pretending to be someone that they're not so that they can tell you a story.  If you don't have the emotional maturity to handle that concept, do yourself and the rest of us a favor and stay out of the theater altogether.

This movie does not stigmatize obese men and women at all... it shines a spotlight on the stigma that exists in our world.  Like I said before, I never even came close to being as heavy as the main character of this movie, but I can tell you that when I was at half of his weight, I was treated differently by the world around me.  People were a lot nicer to me when I was 160 to 200 pounds.  Friends, co-workers, hell even total strangers would talk to me in a more kind tone of voice.  They listened with more interest when I had something to say.  They were pleasant and would go out of their way to include me in conversations or in things that were taking place.  This is very different than the way that people have interacted with me when I've weighed between 260 to 300 pounds.  I haven't weighed myself in a long time, but I would guess that I'm around 280 right now.  People aren't out-and-out rude to me or anything like that, but they're not as pleasant and agreeable as they were when I didn't weigh this much.  Some folks like Gabriel Iglesias have a natural charisma that can break through those barriers, but for those of us who don't have his charm and personality, being the weight that I'm currently at tends to attract more disgusted looks and condescending attitudes than it does friendly conversation.  That's one of the reasons that I grew my hair and my beard out.  Part of it is because it helps to hide the double chin and the weight that I've gained in my face, but when I throw on a black t-shirt and a leather jacket, it all serves the same purpose as the stripes on a scarlet kingsnake.

Bottom line: if you've read the criticism that this film has received and think that it has any merit whatsoever, my advice to you is to watch the movie and judge for yourself.  Don't let these people dictate what your opinion should be.  I can't speak for the whole world, but as an overweight man who has struggled with binge eating throughout his adult life, I can tell you that the people who criticize this movie and its casting do not speak for me.

The Whale was directed by Darren Aronofsky.  If you will indulge me in a brief humble-brag, I worked as an extra in the final act of his fourth film, The Wrestler.  In addition to The Whale and The Wrestler, he has had an amazing career directing films such as Pi, Requiem For A Dream, The Fountain, Black Swan, Noah, and Mother.

Now, I am not at all a professional actor.  I've never even been in a play in high school.  I'm just a guy who likes professional wrestling and who helped set up the arena for a few Ring Of Honor shows, and they happened to be the company who partnered up with Mr. Aronofsky to provide the ring and set dressing for the last scene in the movie.  The opportunity to appear in the movie just sort of fell into my lap, so there I was with a bunch of SAG extras in the crowd scenes.  I didn't know what I was doing, but I stood where they told me to stand and did what they told me to do and it was a pretty great experience.  Everybody was very kind and welcoming throughout the shoot, and Mr. Aronofsky met with us at the end of the day to talk and take a photo.  He even gave me the call sheet for the day as a souvenir (you can see it in his hand in the photo).  He's an incredibly nice man who didn't have to take time after a long day of filming to spend some time talking with a big old nerd like me, but he did and I'll never forget it.

This movie wasn't screened by my local theater when it premiered nationwide in December, but they've started showing it once a day along with several other Oscar-nominated films at Regal Cinemas.  If you haven't had the opportunity to see it yet and you have any interest in it at all, I strongly recommend that you check it out.  This is an incredible movie that is absolutely worth your time.