On March 12 at the Oscars, Brendan Fraser won best actor for his major role in “The Whale,” and I detested it. Fraser won an award for playing a role in which he appears to choke on fried chicken, sandwiches, and pizza while wearing a fat suit. He physically eats himself to death in the film, and it’s interpreted as some sort of allegory for love and salvation. Fraser and the film’s director, Darren Aronofsky, have frequently stated that they wanted the movie to humanize overweight people and elicit empathy for them, yet the film falls well short of their goals. And Fraser’s victory is the cherry on top—endorsement Hollywood’s that this is a solid, valuable performance and picture.
It’s kind of disgusting how every time I discuss my problems with “The Whale,” I feel compelled to equivocate. Well, but I do love Brendan, I have to say. “He is fantastic in “The Mummy”! He will be fantastic in “Killers of the Flower Moon” this year!” Brendan has spoken movingly about his struggle with depression and the suffering he felt at its worst, and of course I’m glad to see him overcome those obstacles and get back to work in a field he loves. But, his battle with mental illness does not excuse him from acting in a film like “The Whale”; on the contrary, it makes the situation worse. Both obese persons and depressed people experience stigmatization and social exclusion.
At the ceremony, “The Whale” also took home the prize for best cosmetics and hairstyle, which was obviously a result of the fat suit Fraser donned. An unidentified announcer said during the broadcast when winners Adrien Morot, Judy Chin, and Anne Marie Bradley entered the stage, “The team used all-digital prosthetic makeup for a big feature for the first time to convert Brendan Fraser into the whale. Fraser’s weight was thus increased to the highest level possible without obstructing his face or restricting his ability to communicate his emotions.”
There’s also something so dehumanising about this phrasing: “This pushed Fraser’s weight into the severest extreme.” Fraser’s weight didn’t actually move in any direction; that’s the point of a fat suit. This also implies that people who live at high weights live on the “severest extreme.” Plus, the whole idea of his unique, digitally enhanced fat suit is an overly complicated solution for a problem of the movie’s own making. You wouldn’t be in danger of hindering an actor’s “emotional range of expression” if you weren’t putting them in a fat suit to begin with.