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Guy Branum Gave ‘The Whale’ the Arc It Actually Deserved

Brendan Fraser in fat prosthetics in a scene from The Whale.

Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale opens in theaters this Friday, but the discourse around the movie has been intense since the film’s premiere at the Venice International Film Festival in September. Brendan Fraser’s performance has been heralded as sensational—which is accurate—but far too many critics and eager fans have been tripping over themselves to shut down the valid concerns and criticisms of fat advocates.

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As writer/podcaster Aubrey Gordon mentions in those tweets, Aronofsky’s film—which is about a very sad, lonely, and self-loathing man named Charlie who weighs about 600 pounds—is based on a play by Samuel Hunter, who adapted it for the screen himself. So arguments that everyone has to “wait and see” if they’re allowed to be concerned about the prosthetic-laden depiction of this character were even more hollow than usual.

No one has to see the movie for themselves to know how insulting it is to see critics fawning over how the film “humanizes” Charlie or treating it as remarkable that the audience is made to empathize with him—a reaction that is 100% the desired intention of the film. “In ‘humanizing’ Charlie, Aronofsky seems to want to repel the viewer so that we can pat ourselves on the back for finding the man in the monster,” The New Yorker’s Michael Schulman wrote in an astute piece this week. “But is that empathy or pity?”

Still, because Hunter’s own source material exists, anyone who wanted to verify the story’s content ahead of the film’s release could, and many did. One of those who took the opportunity to read the play was actor and comedian Guy Branum.

A new journey for The Whale

“When I heard Darren Aronofsky was going to make a movie about a very fat gay guy staring Brendan Fraser in a fat suit, I got concerned,” Branum wrote on Instagram Thursday. “I bought the play it was based on to see what was about. Part of me hoped it might be good, insightful about a life like mine. Instead it was a sad, pathetic story of a sad, pathetic man. I got sad for the main character, Charlie, and how little the author’s imagination offered his life, trapped in a bad apartment, eating fried chicken endlessly.”

Branum says he “decided to imagine more for Charlie” so he took The Whale to France. Like, his actual copy of script. And he took it around France, seeing historical sights and taking it to great meals and just letting it experience an existence free of shame and judgment.

“It saw Antonous, the man so beautiful Hadrian made him a god (better than some missionary!)it ate at Mirazur, the best restaurant in the world (better than cold fried chicken!) and when it was all over, I set him in the azure waters of the Mediterranean so The Whale could return to the sea, a better one than Samuel D. Hunter thought possible for a 600 pound gay.”

You can scroll through those photos (and videos) to see Branum give The Whale the arc it actually deserved all along.

Branum spoke to The New Yorker‘s Schulman for his piece on the film and he mentioned that this trip happened last year. “Last year, when I was on vacation, I took my copy of ‘The Whale’ to the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and a beach in Corsica,” he said, “just because the idea of what this fat, gay guy’s life could be was so limited, and I wanted my copy of ‘The Whale’ to do some fun things in its life.”

(image: A24)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.