The whale

Ceri Richards, And Death Shall Have No Dominion, 1965
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By GUSTAVO TORRECILHA*

Commentary on Darren Aronofsky's film

The film The whale, the most recent by Darren Aronofsky, has a simple form and structure, but which works well for its proposal: that of a psychological drama with a certain optimism at the end. The structure is simple not only because of the use of just one space, the apartment of the protagonist Charlie, something common for films adapted from theatrical plays (the play of the same name written by Samuel D. Hunter premiered in 2012), but also because the beginning of the film already make its ending clear.

As a result of the conflicted relationships between the characters, one can only hope that the emotions and conflicts between them would eventually reach a climax that could be resolved for both good and ill. And the main conflict, that of Charlie and his daughter, Ellie, is resolved for good, which proves to be a surprising feature of Darren Aronofsky, even more so if we have as a parameter one of his first films, Requiem for a Dream, launched in the year 2000.

Both films have similar themes: they are psychological dramas that address the suffering around addictions and compulsions caused in individuals who are vulnerable and alone. This dimension is present in all four of the most important characters in Requiem for a Dream, Tyrone, Marion, Harry and his mother, Sara, the latter being comparable to the protagonist of The whale.

Although they are all drug addicts, Sara's case is perhaps the easiest to draw parallels with Darren Aronofsky's most recent film, as her addiction also stems from a vulnerable situation, having to deal with loneliness after her father's death. husband and the change of son, who leaves home after graduation. The feeling of loneliness, combined with excessive consumption of television and the dream of participating in an auditorium program, make Sara resort to a diet based on pills to lose weight and participate in the program wearing the same dress as her son's graduation party. , which no longer fits. But the amphetamines in the pills generate hallucinations and lead her to be hospitalized in a serious condition, refusing to eat.

Similarly, Charlie is also in a situation of vulnerability, caused by loneliness, which leads him to harm his own health. As much as it is not exactly an addiction, after the death of his partner, he begins to eat compulsively (two whole pizzas for dinner or even a drawer full of sweets and industrialized products) until he reaches the point of morbid obesity. The film tells his last days after a health crisis, when he is helped by a missionary who is inserted in the dynamic of Charlie's conflicting relationships, which also includes a friend, who is a nurse and sister of the deceased companion, in addition to his daughter and your ex-wife.

Although it is, for Darren Aronofsky, more about the psychological situations of the characters, it is possible to see criticism of American society in the films: in Requiem for a Dream, the negative influence of too much television on lower-middle-class people with little education and the harmful effects of both drugs and slimming pills, and in The whale, the result of religious fundamentalism and prejudice against homosexuality, which leads Charlie's partner to suicide. In the latest film, there is also the issue of poor public health, as Charlie prefers not to be treated after his illness to leave money for Ellie, as well as the theme of parental abandonment, which shows that Charlie is not just a victim and emphasizes this ambiguous human character of the character.

His attempt to mend his relationship with Ellie after he dumped her is the main conflictual relationship (although he also has them with all the other characters). Charlie tries, in his last days of life, to reconcile with her, however much she constantly pushes him away and humiliates him, which he always forgives for feeling that he is really very close to death, trying to redeem himself with Ellie. However, this reconciliation does not come easily, and adds to Charlie's conflicts with the other characters.

But at least that main relationship gets an upbeat treatment at the end, when Charlie manages, in a way, using a school project in which Ellie interprets the novel. Moby Dick, to show her that she was still capable of being a good and honest person beyond the hurt caused by the abandonment of her father, who chose to leave her to live with another man, contributing to the young woman's aggressive and even antisocial behavior.

Em The whale, as much as this final reconciliation has its price, Darren Aronofsky makes his optimism in the change of weather very clear: while in Charlie's last days the rain constantly fell outside the apartment, with his denouement, the sun appears for the first time in the film. And this is directly opposed to Requiem for a Dream, which also uses the symbolism of time, as the beginning of the film takes place in summer, with the characters in much better situations than they are at the end, in winter, with the camera showing each one of them alone and suffering as a result of the events during that period.

So much The whale as Requiem for a Dream they deal with topics such as loneliness and grief and the addictions and compulsions that act as ways to escape reality. The difference lies in the more optimistic tone of the recent film, whose ending, despite being predictable and sad for the remaining characters involved, hints at a more positive perspective, at least in Ellie's life, despite the traumas of the last few days and their relationship. with your father.

*Gustavo Torrecilha is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at USP.

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