Buried beneath a mountain of make-up and prosthetics so that he is nigh unrecognizable, Brendan Fraser has earned no small amount of acclaim for his portrayal of Charlie. The Whale, filmed on a $3 million budget (pocket change by the standards of modern Hollywood), first began making waves when Fraser received a highly publicized six-minute standing ovation at the movie’s Venice Film Festival premiere. The role has since netted him “Best Actor” accolades from outlets as varied as the Toronto International Film Festival, the Hollywood Critics Association, and the Academy Awards. But for all the acclaim that The Whale has received, perhaps its most important aspects are those overlooked by the vast majority of critics. The focus on Charlie’s homosexuality and the flaws of the Christian missionary attempting to proselytize him overlook the haunting themes of sin and guilt, as well as Charlie’s terrible need for absolution, which permeate Aronofsky’s film from first frame to last. Though The Whale tackles issues of sin, faith, homosexuality, and the family unit, there is no sense in which it lands the plane on any particular runway. The film is most certainly not the all-out assault on the church that some critics seem to think it is, but at the same time, it is still a product of the modern Hollywood machine. Charlie does not find Jesus. Nevertheless, The Whale is a film that is interested in the complexities of faith in a modern context, and that makes it worth paying attention to. Material abounds here for the Christian apologist or evangelist to take hold of and step into conversations with people struggling with homosexuality and feelings of guilt and depression. It would be unwise to ignore a movie that really does seem to be interested in interacting with people of the Christian faith, especially when the broader culture is so uninterested in what Christians have to say.
**Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for The Whale.**
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