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Movie Review: The Whale

  • Eating

The Whale is one powerful movie, yet I’m unsure whether to recommend it to people with eating disorders and weight concerns. As I’ve avoided reading any reviews about it, this blog is purely my reactions to a film about Charlie, (spoiler alert!) a man who literally eats himself to death, masterfully played by Brendan Fraser.

If this film was disturbing to me, an ED therapist who’s fully recovered from decades of emotional and binge-eating, I wonder what it will be like for people in the throes of runaway eating. I worry it will be so upsetting they’ll head right for the cookie jar or feel revulsion for Charlie, or intense shame toward themselves for their eating or their size. My wish is that they’d feel so filled with compassion for him that they’d begin to soften and feel compassion for themselves.

The film is about an online writing teacher carrying such a high weight that he’s housebound. We learn that he is gay and grieving the loss of his life partner, being cared for by a nurse friend who has her own (healthy and unhealthy) reasons for taking care of him, has an ex-wife with whom he’s had scant contact after a nasty divorce, and has an estranged, raging teenage daughter come back into his life for who knows what. 

Watching Charlie devour food flooded me with memories of my binge-eating days when everything dropped away but food. Nothing mattered: not hunger or fullness, too tight clothes, the taste of the food, or how awful I’d feel after eating it. The movie’s eating scenes are very, very real. Charlie opens and closes a drawer full of candy bars, struggling with whether or not to partake, and when he shoves food into his mouth, you know his actions have nothing to do with appetite or pleasure. His pain was my pain.

One theme of the film is whether we can save others from self-destructive behavior. We see portrayals of co-dependence, enabling and rescue fantasies as well as the heartfelt human need to lessen the suffering of those we love. We’re faced with questions of how to set limits when someone is hellbent on self-destruction, how much we should try to rescue them when it’s harming us, and if it’s okay to let someone follow a slow suicidal path if they’re in such obvious pain that they can’t see any other way out.

If you plan to watch the 2022 film, be prepared for an emotional roller coaster of shock, sadness, helplessness, compassion, and resignation. Perhaps even disgust. Be ready to be disturbed because the film is meant to twist your heart. Make sure to take time alone or with others (it’s a good film to watch with a friend or group of friends) to debrief and consider what you learned about yourself from The Whale