Do you know the feeling of having just watched a movie that leaves you jaw-dropped? Leaves you wishing to be able to experience it for the first time just one more time? It is rare, for me at least, to see the closing credits and be stunned in my tracks, tears streaming down my face, feeling so much all at once. There’s movies you love, and then there’s movies that really mean something. Movies that speak about what it means to be human. That leave you thinking it through again and again and again, interpreting every last detail, and trying to figure out what it all means.
This is The Whale.
“In the amazing book Moby Dick by the author Herman Melville, the author recounts his story of being at sea. In the first part of his book, the author, calling himself Ishmael, is in a small sea-side town and he is sharing a bed with a man named Queequeg. The author and Queequeg go to church and later set out on a ship…”
Charlie is Ishmael. Queequeg is Alan. They go to church at New Life. They share a bed. And then they set out on a ship — or, for better words, a hardship. For Alan that hardship is succumbing to taking his own life due to his struggle with the lack of acceptance of his sexuality by his church and family. For Charlie, the hardship is the aftermath that ensues, and the tragedy of grief after losing the love of his life.
“…a ship captained by the pirate named Ahab, who is missing a leg, and very much wants to kill the whale which is named Moby Dick, and which is white. In the course of the book, the pirate Ahab encounters many hardships. His entire life is set around trying to kill a certain whale. I think this is sad because this whale doesn’t have any emotions, and doesn’t know how bad Ahab wants to kill him. He’s just a poor big animal. And I feel bad for Ahab as well, because he thinks that his life will be better if he can kill this whale, but in reality it won’t help him at all.”
Who is Ahab and who is the whale? I think it can be interpreted several ways. Although it would seem obvious that Charlie is “the whale” because of his size, I don’t think that’s the case. In a sense, Ahab is both Ellie and Charlie, and the whale is their tragic lives, their hardship. Following Alan’s suicide, Charlie’s entire life is set around trying to “end” his tragic life that he is now living, although perhaps this may be unintentional to him. He eats to the point that it kills him. The magnitude of Charlie’s pain is mirrored by his size, and he takes on the weight that Alan had lost during his sickness. He also refuses to go to the hospital. He isolates himself. He continues to spiral even though he knows that his days are numbered if he doesn’t change course. In the same way, Ellie is Ahab. She also endures hardship in her tragic life when Charlie abandons her when she is only 8 years old. She is trying to figuratively end the life that she is unhappy with by rebelling against everything and everyone around her. The Whale is not the obese main character, but it is the tragedy of both of their lives that they wish to escape.
“I was very saddened by this book, and I felt many emotions for the characters. And I felt saddest of all when I read the boring chapters that were only descriptions of whales, because I knew that the author was just trying to save us from his own sad story, just for a little while. This book made me think about my own life, and then it made me feel glad for my–“
Is the author of the screenplay trying to distract us from his own sad story with Charlie’s story? Is Charlie distracting us from the tragedy of our own lives by watching his story? Or, is the depiction of Charlie’s day to day life distracting us from his real tragedy? As we watch Charlie’s life from Monday to Friday, we feel incredibly sad for him, perhaps even the saddest of all, but in a way it is distracting us from the tragedy that befell him initially — losing his love, Alan, to suicide.
During this week we also get to know Liz, Alan’s sister who is a nurse and the only person that Charlie has to help him. Liz is bossy and protective, but she is a caretaker and inside her tough exterior she is tender and caring. Some could say she enables Charlie by bringing him unhealthy food, but ultimately she knows that Charlie’s choices are up to him. Although she disagrees with his choices, she doesn’t try to change him. She accepts his choices and gives him what he asks for. She takes on his pain and his burden, in the same way that she took on that of her brother because she loves Charlie like a brother. She knows that his time is coming to end, and above all she wants him to be at peace after everything he has gone through. Knowing that the end of his tragic life is near, she enables him to find at least some comfort in the only way he knows how, and that is food.
Charlie cannot change what happened to Alan. He cannot change how he responded to Alan’s death. He says that he wanted to be enough to save Alan, but he wasn’t. He also can’t change that he left Ellie when she was a child, although he regrets it. He knows that Ellie did not deserve this. He thinks she’s amazing. But he wants to do one good thing with his life — he wants to be enough for Ellie to at least save her from the pain and suffering that he caused her. He refuses to go to the hospital and instead saves every last penny for her, thinking that money is the last thing that he can give her to make sure that she is okay.
But in the end, he does so much more than that. He brings her back to herself and helps her to remember how amazing she truly is. When he looks at Ellie he sees a bright, talented, witty, and beautiful girl, but Ellie no longer sees that in herself. She always looked up to her father as a child, but after he left and was not there for her during her formative teenage years, she was left to be raised by her angry and cynical mother who does not believe in her. But Charlie only sees the good in Ellie. By showing Ellie his love and admiration for her, and having her read her essay out loud, Ellie finally remembers who she is. At this point, the rain stops, and we get to see the sun come out and shine about her face, as she tenderly refers to Charlie as “daddy.”
In the end, Charlie and Ellie choose to come back to one another, and Ellie forgives her father. She remembers who she is and speaks her truth, the song of herself: her essay. She is saved from her tragic life — not by the money, but by her father’s love bringing her back to herself. It is the last and best thing he can give her. And Charlie is ultimately saved from his tragedy — not by the church, redemption in God, or medical care, but by Ellie being true to herself. Charlie dies at peace knowing that she will be okay and that one good thing has come from his life.
“This book made me think about my own life, and then it made me feel glad for my– self.”
The Song of Myself.
Hey, I'm Sarah
My favorite things to do are eat, travel, bake, and drink coffee! I love bringing retro and classic recipes back to life and making baking easy and fun.