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Brendan fraser shares his interpretation of the whale’s final scene.


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Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Whale. Brendan Fraser breaks down his interpretation of The Whale 's ending after it concludes on an ambiguous note. The Whale premiered on December 9 and is an emotional psychological drama starring Fraser. It has been touted as Fraser's comeback film after he disappeared from the Hollywood scene for many years. The Whale follows Charlie (Fraser), a morbidly obese man who tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink). The film has received mixed-to-positive reviews so far, with critics being nearly unanimous in their praise of Fraser's performance. However, the film has received some criticism for director Darren Aronofsky's melodramatic adaption of Samuel D. Hunter's 2012 play of the same name.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly , Fraser and Hunter (who also wrote the film's screenplay) shed some light on the ambiguous ending of The Whale . For many viewers, the scene may seem tragic and to others, the religious undertones may evade their understanding. Hence, Fraser and Hunter discuss how they interpreted the ending and how it was a hero's ending for Charlie, one in which he found liberation. Check out their statements below:

Fraser: It's important because it's a Herculean effort that he makes to even get to his feet. For him to finally break through to her, humble himself before her, and let her know that he made a mistake and is sorry for it. While his life has not physically ended in that moment, I think that he knows he doesn't need to live any longer, which is why he takes off his breather, he's got her reading the essay, and he does take to his feet like three Olympic dead-lifters, takes his baby steps to his baby, and in that beautiful two-shot, a great white light appears, and they look skyward. Depending on your belief system, spiritually or otherwise, we see that Charlie — with a touch of magic realism — finally does fly. Hunter: He's struggling this entire film to put a mirror up to his daughter to say, 'This is who you are,' and in those final moments, that mirror is this essay, when she looks at it, she can't deny turning it in and getting a D, but then, here's her father, all these years later, being like, 'This is the best essay I've ever read.' At long last, he's the only person who sees her, and she knows it.

Related: The Whale Confirms Sadie Sink Is Stranger Things' True Breakout Star

What Happens In The Whale's Ending

the whale charlie-1

Fraser and Hunter's explanation of the ending will be welcomed by some, as The Whale 's final scene is a bit difficult to understand on paper. Before the ending can fully be explained, Fraser reveals that viewers needed to understand an earlier scene in the film. That particular Whale scene was one in which Ellie and Charlie first begin spending time together after Charlie agrees to help her write an essay for school. Ellie, still hurt at being abandoned by her father, tries to hurt him back by challenging him to walk. Unfortunately, at that point in The Whale , he can't stand or walk, and is therefore unable to prove himself to her.

In the final scene of The Whale , Ellie confronts Charlie about switching out her essay with an essay on Moby Dick she wrote in 8th grade. Charlie switched out the essays because he finally saw her and understood that the latter essay was an expression of herself. Though Ellie is defensive at first, the two end up attempting to connect one last time. To do so, Charlie asks Ellie to read the essay to him. As she does so, despite his health failing him, Charlie manages to stand and walk toward her. He is finally able to prove himself to her. However, the effort of walking is more than Charlie can withstand, and he dies as Ellie reads the essay. In the end, a bright light seemingly shines down, which could be interpreted literally as Charlie ascending to heaven or figuratively to prove that he has been redeemed.

Ultimately, The Whale 's ending has many layers to it, and it is tragic in some sense. However, Fraser and Hunter point out that the underlying theme is redemption and liberation. In the end, Charlie is willing to accept his death because he has accomplished the one goal that he had, which was to prove to his daughter that she is seen and understood. It is also an extremely touching portrayal of the relationship between a parent and a child. Even though Charlie failed Ellie in many ways, he proved that his parental instinct and love for his daughter never faded as he was able to see the value and the piece of his daughter within a years-old 8th grade essay. According to Fraser and Hunter, The Whale 's ending isn't ambiguous or tragic but hopeful for all the parents out there seeking redemption.

Next: Why The Whale Is Controversial, Despite Brendan Fraser's Comeback

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The Whale explained (2022)

The Whale explained (2022)

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Welcome to our Colossus Movie Guide for The Whale . This guide contains everything you need to understand the film. Dive into our detailed library of content, covering key aspects of the movie. We encourage your comments to help us create the best possible guide. Thank you!

What is The Whale about?

The Whale is a reflection on guilt, consequences, self-deceit and the power of honesty. Specifically the way in which these things can erode someone’s life. For Charlie and Liz, it’s the loss of Alan. For Alan, it was feeling abandoned by his father. Ellie, Charlie’s daughter, also feels abandoned by her father. And Thomas stole from his church, ran away, and is too scared to look back. We see how easy it is for each of them to lie to themselves about the pain they feel. They fall back on distraction. It’s only once they start being honest with themselves, with one another, and with others, that any progress is made. 

Movie Guide table of contents

The ending of the whale explained, the themes and meaning of the whale.

  • Why is the movie called The Whale?

Important motifs in The Whale

  • Questions and answers
  • Charlie – Brendan Fraser
  • Ellie – Sadie Sink
  • Mary – Samantha Morton
  • Liz – Hong Chau
  • Thomas – Ty Simpkins
  • Written by – Samuel D. Hunter
  • Directed by – Darren Aronofsky
  • Based on the play – The Whale

The ending of The Whale begins when Thomas comes over and tells Charlie that he, Thomas, is going home thanks to Ellie. The conversation takes a turn when Thomas tries to “save” Charlie. Charlie pushes back on the idea of God and an afterlife and explicitly states his shame, guilt, and frustration with himself over his weight. 

The next day, he tells his online class that he’s been replaced. This is the consequence of posting an assignment to be honest where he used cuss words. During this “last lecture”, Charlie makes a big point about honesty and being yourself. This culminates with him turning on his facecam for the first time, revealing to the class what he looks like. Some are shocked. Some are awed. Some are concerned. Embarrassed. Stunned. “These assignments don’t matter. This course doesn’t matter. College doesn’t matter. These amazing, honest things that you wrote, they matter.” As a sign off, he throws his laptop across the room. It breaks. 

Liz shows up with food. Charlie doesn’t look good. He’s audibly wheezing. These two now have their final talk. Liz is upset at the revelation that Charlie has over $100,000 in the bank he’s refused to use to get himself medical help. She compares what happened with Alan dying from not eating to Charlie dying from overeating. “I can’t do this anymore.” Charlie says he told Alan he didn’t need anyone else, not God, not anyone else. Liz says, “I don’t think I believe anyone can save anyone.” Which leads to Charlie talking about Ellie and Thomas. “Do you ever get the feeling that people are incapable of not caring? People are amazing.”

 Ellie bursts into the house and confronts Charlie about the essay he gave her. It received an F. When she finally reads it, she realizes what it is. It’s an essay she wrote in eighth grade English class. It’s the whale essay Charlie has obsessed over since the opening of the movie. Charlie apologizes to Ellie. He breaks down Ellie’s own self loathing. “This essay is you.” He tells her she’s perfect, that she’ll be happy, that she cares about people. His condition quickly deteriorates. Charlie begs her to read the essay. Ellie’s about to go but opens the door and bathes herself and the room in light. She says, “Daddy, please.” Then turns and begins to read the essay. 

Charlie calms. Suddenly motivated, he rolls, he struggles, he stands. He steps. He steps. Closer and closer to Ellie. He flashes to a day of being back at the beach. His feet in the water. Ellie and Charlie share a moment. Then Charlie’s feet lift off the ground, he gasps, and ascends. We get a final wide shot of him on the beach, standing in the surf, young Ellie behind him. It’s a bright, lovely, picturesque day. 

There’s a good amount going on here, narratively and thematically. 

Charlie’s death

First and foremost, the obvious implication is that Charlie dies. But how should we take his feet lifting off the ground? The flash of light? The final shot? The Whale had been a very grounded, realistic movie. But that ending brings in aspects of the surreal. 

There’s an argument to be made that it’s a subjective visual. At that moment Charlie has a sense of peace. He reconnected with Ellie in a major way, breaking through the angry wall she had kept up for so much of the movie. To Charlie, his death isn’t this bleak, horrendous thing. It’s transcendent. The visual supports his sense of the weight lifted from his shoulders, and the grace and peace he feels. It’s similar to the end of Iñárritu’s film Birdman or scenes in Tár . In both those films the filmmaker allows the main character’s subjectivity to influence the film’s form. Aronofsky isn’t a stranger to this tactic, employing similar techniques in The Fountain and   Black Swan . The benefit of the subjective visual is that you can do dynamic things with it. The con is how subjective moments can create confusion around how literally something should be viewed. 

On the flip side of the subjective visual is the literal visual. In Birdman , we’re not supposed to believe the main character has telekinetic powers and can fly. It’s surreal subjectivity. But in Justice League , yeah, those things are literal. The Fountain , subjective. Inception , literal. Fight Club , subjective. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind , literal. Mulholland Drive , incredibly subjective. Hereditary , literal. 

The literal visual means that what we see has to be taken at face value. It’s not metaphoric. Like all the transcendent, crazy stuff we see in The Fountain is just a way to demonstrate the grieving process. It’s not literally what Hugh Jackman’s character does. But representative of his journey. In Inception , everything that happens is what happened. The dream-sharing isn’t some euphemism. The memory erasure in Eternal Sunshine is not merely a representation of getting over an ex. It’s a “real” procedure the character’s going through. 

So in The Whale , if we read the ending as literal, then we have to try to explain how Charlie leaves his feet. What the flash of light means. And what that last image on the beach is. The clear, primary answer is that it’s a confirmation of God. That at the moment of his death, Charlie has this divine moment, a kind of personal rapture, as his soul leaves his body. Faith is one of The Whale ’s major themes. Thomas embodies that theme. His belief and quest to save Charlie creates a means by which the narrative can explore Charlie’s relationship with religion. It’s not a coincidence that the arc between those characters ends with Charlie decrying God, hoping there isn’t an afterlife. That conversation happens when it happens for a reason. 

The nuance here would be that Thomas thinks Charlie must atone for his sexuality. Something Charlie rightfully rejects. If Thomas was right, Charlie shouldn’t have such a divine conclusion. Instead of a light turning on, you’d expect a descent into darkness. It seems the atonement Charlie needed to make was with Ellie. Having done that, he’s redeemed. 

It probably doesn’t matter whether the end is surreal or literal. Either way, the point is the same: guilt, fear, and shame can lead us down a dark path where we lie to others and ourselves. If you walk that path, you’re damned. Through honesty, we find redemption. We improve our relationships. We liberate the mind, body, and soul. And it’s never too late to give yourself and those you love that closure. Thomas had the right idea in that it wasn’t too late for Charlie to be saved. But Thomas was wrong in what that meant. And how to apply it. As Liz says, “I don’t think I believe anyone can save anyone.” The Whale makes the point that others can’t know what we need. What will save us. Especially not a random niche religious off-shoot. Only you know what you need to do. If you’re honest with yourself, the answer is clear. If you’re not honest, then it won’t be easy. 

Ellie and her essay

We never hear the end of Ellie’s essay. It always cuts off at the same point: This book made me think about my own life, and then it made me feel glad for my…

While objectively we don’t know what Ellie says next, the visuals seem to imply the last word is “dad”. Just in the way that Charlie walks over to her. How she walks up to him. That when she reaches that point we see a shot of Charlie and he smiles. It cuts back to Ellie and she looks at him and smiles. It would also make sense why Charlie cherished that essay so much. Because it’s the one physical reminder he has that his daughter loved/loves him. She was glad for him. 

Whether she says “Dad” or not at the end of the essay, the important thing is that it ends with Ellie being glad. That embodies her narrative arc. She starts off so angry. She’s mean to everyone. Her own mom calls her evil. The implication is that she’s so upset about Charlie leaving that she’s been taking it out on everyone else. There’s a lot of fear of abandonment and self-loathing. Charlie slowly breaks down that wall. He keeps telling Ellie she’s amazing. She’s beautiful. Smart. Perfect. Even at the end. He’s adamant about the good in her. That she can be happy. He even says that she is that essay. The essay is ruminative, serious, slightly sad. But it builds to a point of finding joy. And the hope is that Ellie herself will now be able to do the same. 

Near the end of The Whale , Charlie and his ex-wife, Mary, get to reconnect. It’s not always pretty but it is cathartic. Eventually, they end up sitting next to each other. Mary lays her head on Charlie. They share a moment. Then Charlie begins to reflect. 

When Ellie was little, when we took that trip to the Oregon Coast together, Ellie played in the sand and we laid out on the beach. I went swimming in the ocean. That was the last time I ever went swimming actually. I kept cutting my legs on the rocks. The water was so cold. And you were so mad that my legs bled and stained the seats in the minivan and you said for days after that I smelled like seawater. You remember that? 

It’s not a profound moment. Nor a perfect moment. But it is a time Charlie remembers fondly. Through that subjective lens, it would represent simply a time of peace and potential. It’s probably one of many happy memories Charlie would die with. through the literal lens, it would imply something more heavenly, something afterlife-y. 

Zooming out from the narrative reasons, two things come to mind. First, most of The Whale is very interior. Aside from the opening shot, the entire movie takes place in Charlie’s house or on his front porch. There’s a claustrophobia to the mise-en-scene. That also influences the color palette. The Whale is a very muted film, full of grays and shows. Typically, art finds the most power through escalation or contrast. So if a story starts in a sad place, the most powerful ending is either complete desolation or a true reversal of fortune. Often you build up the potential of the story going either way. The movie Atonement is a good example of this. It sets up the romance between Kiera Knightly and James McAvoy. But they’re separated by war. You spend the movie uncertain if they will or won’t end up together. The eventual conclusion is insanely emotional. 

For The Whale , if it was going to have a negative ending, we’d expect it to double down on the claustrophobia and color palette. It would take those things to the extreme. But since it goes for a positive ending, it embraces aspects of contrast. Which is why when Ellie opens the door it’s such a surprising moment. For her, for Charlie, for the viewer. The light. The air. The sense of space. It’s lovely. The beach is about as opposite from Charlie’s apartment as it gets. It’s open. It’s bright. It’s full of energy. It’s also a time when Charlie had his family. All things that have been missing from his life. 

So ending with the beach just has that visual energy that leaves the viewer with a better feeling than seeing Charlie on the floor of his house. 

Of course, the movie’s also called The Whale and wants us to use that as a metaphor for Charlie. Not just in terms of his physical size. But as it relates to Ellie’s essay. Given the association with whales and the ocean, ending with Charlie on the beach feels like a way to try and visually connect person and cetacea. 

Guilt, grief, control, fear. 

Deep into The Whale we find out that Charlie’s boyfriend, Alan, passed away from complications arising from starvation. The starvation was a direct consequence of a falling out between Alan and his father, the leader of the New Life church. When Alan lost his father, he also lost his faith. The existential backlash caused a depression that manifested in a lack of appetite. Both Charlie and Liz (Alan’s sister) struggled to motivate him. Alas, nothing worked. Alan eventually passed away. 

Charlie and Liz both suffered with guilt, grief, and a lack of control. A person they loved very much is gone. It’s easy for them to blame themselves for their inability to save Alan. Could they have said more? Done more? It’s easy to imagine them caught in a cycle of what ifs. The lack of control they felt in regard to what happened with Alan ends up manifesting around their relationship with food. Charlie begins to overeat, as if eating for both Alan and himself. While Liz facilitates Charlie’s gorging by bringing him food. Even though she knows what Charlie’s doing is unhealthy, she gives in because of everything that happened with Alan. She can’t abide someone being hungry. Even if it kills them. 

These same emotions plague Ellie and Thomas, too, just in different ways and for different reasons. Ellie is angry about Charlie’s disappearance from her life. The pain of losing her father has made it hard for her to form and maintain relationships. Her form of control is to distance herself before others can distance from her. Or even push them away through insults and disturbing behavior. For Thomas, he also had conflict with a parent. In trouble for smoking too much pot, his father forced Thomas to go on a mission. He went but was upset by the mission leader only wanting to hand out pamphlets. It was too little. Thomas ended up stealing $2,436 from the mission and running off to do his own work. Which is what brought him to Idaho. Does he want to be there? No. But he’s also too scared to go back home. 

The lies we tell ourselves 

Charlie, Liz, Ellie, and Thomas all find ways to justify their behavior. 

For Charlie, he convinced himself that no one would want to be around him. This is why he keeps his camera turned off while teaching online courses. It’s how he reasoned staying out of Ellie’s life. And it fuels his eating. Because the more he eats, the more he can defend running away from any kind of accountability or confrontation. 

Liz is in a similar boat. She knows Charlie isn’t doing well. But he’s the only attachment to her brother that she has left. By feeding Charlie, it’s like she’s feeding her brother. She could put her foot down. Maybe she used to. Maybe there was a time she didn’t bring him two meatball subs with extra cheese or an entire large bucket of KFC? Maybe she used to try to get him to exercise? But it became easier to not fight him. She’d rather enjoy that part of Charlie that reminds her of her brother and gives her a sense of comfort rather than put her foot down and do what’s best for Charlie’s health. 

Ellie yells and screams that she wants nothing to do with Charlie. She says a lot of horrible things about him. Not just to his face but on social media. Yet she keeps coming back to his house. Ostensibly, it’s because he’ll do her homework and give her $120,000. But really it’s because she truly does want a relationship with her father. It’s just hard for her to work through those emotions. She’s been upset with him for so long that the process of forgiveness isn’t easy. And you can imagine there’s part of her that wonders if she did something to cause her dad to leave. By continually threatening to go, she causes Charlie to, over and over again, declare he wants her around. Slowly, she begins to believe it. 

And then Thomas lies about being from New Life and on a sanctioned mission. He ran away because he messed up and is scared to face the consequences. What will his father say? What will his church do? Will he go to jail? Will his family abandon him? To prevent that, he, much like Ellie, abandons them first. He tells himself and others that it’s the mission that’s important. But the minute he has an opportunity to go home: he does. That says a lot. 

The Moby Dick essay that Charlie’s so obsessed with is something Ellie wrote four years earlier. 

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 seaside 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 captained by a 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 just kill this whale, but in reality, it won’t help him at all. 

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…

There are a number of resonances with The Whale . It helps to look at these not through the lens of “Why did Ellie write this?” but in terms of “Why did the filmmakers include this? What are they trying to say to the viewer?” First, the reference to Ishmael and Queequeg sharing a bed is reminiscent of Charlie and Alan. The reference to church brings us back to how much religion is a part of the film. Then the way in which Ishmael’s “entire life” is dominated by this one thing. Lastly, it’s the idea of the author attempting to “save us from his own sad story” through the descriptions of the whales. 

As Ellie says, “This book made me think about my own life…” We’re supposed to do the same with the film. Each of us probably has some whale that shapes our life. And other whales we use save others, even ourselves, from the saddest parts of our story. 

To put it another way: you have some guilt, some fear, that influences you, that causes you to seek control in ways that can often be detrimental. Maybe not to the extreme we see with Charlie. But problematic nonetheless. This can be minor like procrastinating on mundane things like laundry, texting back, being on time, going to bed, looking for a new job, etc. You get to it eventually, but not in a way that allows you to feel ahead of the curve rather than behind. Or it can be as large as neglecting responsibilities completely, abandoning relationships, hoarding, overconsumption of food and/or alcohol, etc. 

We all have some kind of Moby Dick that shapes up. And we all have the boring chapters about whales that distract us and others from the problems in our lives. They are the excuses we make. The lies we tell. 

There’s irony to how much Charlie keeps harping on Ellie and his students about being honest. At first, it feels like the basic sort of thing an English professor would want. Artists often talk about the need for honesty in the work. But as we learn more about Charlie, we realize how dishonest he’s been. To his students. To Ellie. To Liz. To his ex, Mary. And to himself. 

While he’s the one who’s the most vocal about honesty, the theme is a major part of Thomas’s character arc. He’s not really from New Life. He’s lied to Charlie, Liz, and Ellie. But finally comes clean to Ellie about his addiction to weed, the resulting fallout with his father, going on a mission as punishment, then stealing money and running away. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s just trying to help someone, anyone, so he can tell himself everything that happened had some kind of meaning. He’s desperate for that sense of catharsis. It’s similar to Charlie saying, “I need to know that I have done one thing right with my life!” But he’s at a far later stage than Thomas. 

What happens with Thomas? In his own words: “And your daughter, she took these pictures of me smoking pot, and a recording or something like that, and she found my church in Waterloo somehow, and then she sent it to them, and they sent it to my parents. And you know what they said? ‘It’s just money.’ And they forgive me. And they love me, and they want me to come home. How awful is that? I can’t tell if she was trying to help me or hurt me or…I’m going home tomorrow.”

Ellie facilitated an honest conversation between Thomas, his church, and his parents. The very thing Thomas had been avoiding. He hadn’t wanted the confrontation, the consequences. Because he feared the worst. But the reality wasn’t so bad. Honesty gave him a path back home. 

We see a similar thing with Charlie and Ellie. Charlie spent years hiding from Ellie because he didn’t want to be honest with her about what he looked like now. And he didn’t want to have the inevitable confrontation about his leaving with Alan. But knowing he only had such a short time left to live, he made the effort, finally. And, yes, Ellie was mean, cruel, petty, and in some ways evil. But she was also there. And simply being there gave father and daughter an opportunity to heal. If only he had done this years earlier, what would have happened? Would Ellie be the angry person she is? The “evil” person Mary describes? And would Charlie still be so large? Would he have had the capacity to forgive himself for what happened to Alan? Would he be in a much better place?

The end of the movie seems to imply that, yes, by being honest, Charlie finally finds some form of redemption. 

Why is the movie called The Whale ?

The most obvious application of the title is the size of Brendan Fraser’s character, Charlie. He is an immense man. Narratively and thematically, his obesity is a primary point of concern. Given the film is a character study, the title of The Whale seems like a poetic alternative to something more mundane like Charlie . It grounds us in the literary “what” rather than the more straightforward “who”. 

But there’s more to it than that. In the film itself, references to “the whale” have nothing to do with Charlie or his size. They originate with an essay written by Ellie.

Two key takeaways from this essay, The first is the dynamic between Ahab and Moby Dick. The second is how Ellie interpreted the descriptions of whales. 

Regarding Ahab and Moby Dick, notice how Ellie says Ahab’s “entire life is set around trying to kill a certain whale.” And how the whale is completely oblivious to it. When you look at the characters in the film, each of them has their own white whale that haunts them and influences their life. For Charlie and Liz, it’s the death of Alan. For Alan, it was his father’s rejection. For Ellie, it’s feeling abandoned by Charlie. For Thomas, it’s fear of judgment from his family and former church. Really, all of them are dealing with guilt. Guilt and fear. 

That brings us to how the descriptions of whales equate to the author “trying to save us from his own sad story”. That description demands we reconsider what the title means. Clearly there’s more to it than Charlie’s size. Rather, it seems to refer to the stories we tell others, or even ourselves, to spare them from our feelings and emotions. In other words: our guilt and fear cause us to distance ourselves from others. Rather than letting them see us for who we are, rather than letting them in and letting them help us, we look to save them from our weaknesses. 

This is exactly what we see with Charlie. He keeps his facecam off so his students don’t have to look at him. He refuses to see his daughter or ex. He doesn’t leave his house. All because he wants to protect others from seeing him. We hear the lies he tells. ONe of his first lines of dialogue is “And, yes, the camera on my laptop still doesn’t work.” It does. He’s just not being honest. 

What we see between the start and end of The Whale are a bunch of characters who weren’t being honest with themselves in some way or another. And they’re dishonestly presenting themselves to others. By the end, they all start coming clean and being more true to who they are. Warts and all. 

So the title The Whale refers to, I believe, not just Charlie, but these stories we tell to distract others. And the grief and fear that cause us to do so. 


99% of The Whale is spent in Charlie’s house. It’s dim, messy, and sad. There are some weak, orange-bulb lamps. Some windows. But the curtains are drawn. So the characters and viewer are crammed into this space for nearly two hours. Psychologically, it creates a sense of claustrophobia and pressure that lends itself to the viewer experiencing tension. Most of us don’t know what it’s like to be the size Charlie is, but we can identify with that sense of mental and physical stagnation and confinement. 

Light and space

It makes sense then that at the very end of the movie that light becomes a powerful motif. The turning point between Ellie and Charlie happens after Ellie opens the front door and fresh air and sunshine flood the room. She reads her whale essay to him and we have these close ups of them washed in this light. And when Charlie dies, a bright light blossoms around him. The last shot of the beach is also very bright and open and seems to be symbolic for either a literal afterlife or just the final sense of peace Charlie has as he passes. Either way, its a stark contrast to the house that had become so much like a jail cell. 

Charlie holds the whale essay in high regard. At first, it seems like that’s just because it’s a simple, well-written, honest essay. A thing any teacher might have a soft spot for. Eventually, we find out the essay is something Ellie wrote four years earlier and Mary sent it to Charlie. So there’s the personal connection to it as well. It reminds him of Ellie. It has been, for eight years, his sole link to Ellie. When he hears it, he hears her. It also serves Charlie as a kind of compass. When Ellie returns to his life, she’s incredibly mean. Brutal. Mary even describes her as evil. Charlie rejects that. He’s convinced there’s more to Ellie. That she not only can be better but is better. That’s because of the essay. For Charlie, the essay is Ellie being honest. While everything else is performative, a consequence of the pain she doesn’t know what to do with. It’s acting out. It’s through the essay he seems to break through to her and, hopefully, change her future for the better. 

Food and more

Alan starved himself. It got bad. Both Liz and Charlie watched this person they loved whither. Eventually, Alan jumped off a bridge. The entire experience changed the relationship Charlie and Liz had with food. For Charlie, he started overeating. While Liz, a caregiver, started overfeeding. Even though they knew what they were doing wasn’t good, it provided both a sense of comfort and control. So they lied to themselves about how bad it was. This mutual enablement was a coping mechanism that represents an inability to process grief, guilt, fear, and anger in a healthy way. 

The facecam

Charlie has his facecam turned off when he teaches the online courses. He knows how shocking his appearance is. So he lies and says his camera is broken. In that way, he spares his class from having to look at him. The camera being off becomes the embodiment of not being honest with yourself or others. This false presentation that allows us to get through each day. Charlie turning the camera on becomes symbolic of finally getting honest with himself. It’s only by being honest that he can find peace before death. It’s just a shame he waited so long. Otherwise, he might have never been in such a dire place to begin with. That’s why he’s so adamant that Ellie and his students embrace honesty sooner rather than later. 

Questions & answers about The Whale

Is ellie really evil.

I don’t think Ellie’s evil in the way that Michael Myers is evil, though Mary seems to think so. But Ellie is very cruel. Her Facebook post about Charlie is pretty mean. Her breaking the plate that has the bird food—jerk move. Her taking the video of Thomas and sending it to his church—terrible. 

Thematically, though, there’s more going on. The Whale explores ideas of honesty and deceit. Especially self-deception. So even though you can perceive what Ellie’s doing as cruel, she’s often cutting through the lies we tell others and ourselves and getting at the truth of a situation. Which can hurt and create conflict. But as we see: that conflict is sometimes the thing we need the most to move beyond stagnation. 

What is the opening scene?

It’s Thomas getting off the bus from Iowa and deciding to start his missionary work. 

Is The Whale connected to other Aronofsky movies like The Wrestler or Black Swan ?

Narrative-wise, absolutely not. But there are similar themes. All three of those films end with the main character giving their life in some cathartic final act. It’s just The Wrestler and Black Swan focus on performance and the demands of high performance. The Whale doesn’t share that concern. With that said, all three movies deal with parent/child relationships, redemption, and self-destruction. And all end in very similar ways. So there is a conversation to be had, especially in terms of Aronofsky’s filmography. I just don’t think The Whale should be looked at as part of a thematic trilogy with Black Swan and The Wrestler . 

Now it’s your turn

Have more unanswered questions about The Whale ? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!

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Chris Lambert is co-founder of Colossus. He writes about complex movie endings, narrative construction, and how movies connect to the psychology of our day-to-day lives.

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Reader Interactions

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September 30, 2023

Well said. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this synopsis.

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January 4, 2024

This is a great analysis of the movie. Thanks

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January 27, 2024

The boyfriend is called Alan, not Andy. That mistake ruined the entire review / analysis for me.

I feel bad. It’s fixed now. If you want to know what happened. In 2022, we were doing this thing were each section about a movie had its own page. So we had 5 different articles about The Whale. I’d write a draft for each article in Google Docs, copy it to WordPress, make final edits, then post. For some reason, when writing about the themes, I switched from writing Alan to Andy. It wasn’t something I caught until I was about to post. So I fixed it in WordPress but not the Google Doc. In 2023, we switched from the sectional style back to a singular page. It was easier to build out the single page from the Google Docs than from the WordPress pages so I went back to the original drafts. But completely forgot to update the mistake in the Theme section. That’s why you probably noticed that I used “Alan” in the beginning of the article then suddenly and abruptly switched to “Andy”.

It’s all fixed now. Thank you for the heads up. I feel bad that thousands of people have read this article with the wrong name.

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June 9, 2024

I love this review. What is the significance of the bird and, at the end, the broken plate. What do you think this represents?

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‘The Whale’ Ending, Explained: Why Was Charlie Hopeful About Ellie? Was he Able To Reconcile With Her?

The Whale Ending Explained Brendan Fraser as Charlie and Sadie Sink as Ellie

Adapted from Samuel D. Hunter’s play, “The Whale” is the story of an English teacher who is suffering from an eating disorder and other unresolved issues in his life. He isn’t able to embrace his past and is on a journey of self-destruction where he has lost the will to live entirely. He has nothing left to look forward to in his life, and he was never able to cope with the loss of a loved one. In Darren Aronofsky’s film, the most uncomfortable scenes are the ones where Charlie, the protagonist, played by the brilliant Brendan Frazer, loses his control and eats everything in sight. Food can actually be looked at as the personification of evil, and Charlie’s dying willpower is the catalyst that makes sure he falls prey to that. So, let’s see where Charlie’s life takes him and if he is able to get his salvation at the end of the film “The Whale.”

Major Spoilers Ahead

‘The Whale’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

In the first few minutes of the film, “The Whale,” we get to know that Charlie is fully aware of his miserable existence, and that is why he doesn’t like people seeing him in person. Charlie taught online writing courses at a university, and he never opened his camera and always told his students that there was some issue with his laptop. It is at this point that you realize Charlie has some serious, unresolved issues that are eating him up from within. Charlie had a compulsive eating disorder, and things had gotten so bad that he was told he could die any moment from congestive heart failure. The imagery of him eating compulsively, his difficulty in dealing with his disorder, his panic attacks, him profusely sweating, groaning and writhing in pain, is created in a manner that makes you feel uncomfortable and grotesque at the same time.

When we first saw him on camera, he was watching an adult film, and a missionary named Thomas walked in upon him. It felt like Charlie was about to die because he was suddenly experiencing a lot of pain in his chest, and Thomas began panicking upon seeing him because he didn’t know what to do. It was a very chaotic situation where Thomas got scandalized by seeing that he was watching explicit content, which for him was probably a sin, and then he didn’t know what to do because Charlie told him not to call an ambulance. Thomas found it absurd when he asked him to read an essay that some student had written analyzing the novel by Herman Melville, Moby-Dick.

We saw that as soon as Thomas started reading the lines of the analysis, which was undeniably quite bluntly written by an anonymous student, Charlie’s pain started to wither away. Those words worked like a magic spell, and Charlie could finally breathe and calm down. He asked Thomas to wait until his nurse came because he believed that he was going to die any moment. Thomas said that he was from New Life, a kind of Christian fellowship and that he wanted to help Charlie follow a spiritual path. Thomas felt that his arrival at the moment was a signal from God, and he felt obligated to cure Charlie. But Charlie was not interested in any of those things. He had read every pamphlet that New Life had ever printed, but it never had an impact on him. It was not like he was against the church, but there were some things that he could never understand in the way that people like Thomas did.

Charlie couldn’t walk or move properly, and he mostly stayed on the couch. His days were mundane, and apart from reading the essays of his students, he didn’t have any exciting activities to look forward to. What gave him the utmost gratification was a piece of writing that was blunt and honest. He always told his students that instead of being objective, they should be honest. As a teacher, he employed unorthodox methods, and he didn’t mind even if they blatantly criticized the classics. He was open to different perspectives and opinions, and he made his students believe that what they thought didn’t need to resonate with the rest of the world.

When Liz, Charlie’s friend, and nurse, arrived at his house, she did a routine checkup and realized that his condition was worsening day by day. His blood pressure was quite high, and she diagnosed that if he kept on going like that, he would not live much longer. Liz hated missionaries who came from New Life, and she asked Thomas why he would waste his life by working for them when he could actually go out there and make a difference. Liz told Thomas that he mustn’t come there ever again, as they didn’t want to hear what his God had to say. Liz told Thomas that New Life was the reason that Charlie lost the love of his life, though she didn’t divulge any more information, and it made Thomas very curious as to what role the church played in the death of a man. Liz was sick and tired of telling Charlie that he needed to go to the hospital, but he always told her that he didn’t have enough money to pay the hospital bills or even buy insurance. Liz had also given up after a point and she realized that Charlie probably didn’t want to live any longer. She tried to do as much as she could, but she didn’t have any delusions about what the end result was going to be.

What Had Happened To Charlie’s Lover?

Throughout the film, The Whale, we see that Thomas keeps coming back again and again because he thinks that he can help Charlie’s cause. One day Liz came from her work and once again found him in Charlie’s house. She got frustrated by his presence, as he didn’t understand what Charlie was going through and had no knowledge of what had happened to him in his life. She wanted him to stop being a savior because, in reality, he couldn’t do much for Charlie. Liz took him outside and told him that Charlie didn’t need this kind of unnecessary interference in his life, as he always had a lot to deal with. Thomas firmly said that he disagreed with Liz’s opinions, and that’s when she told him about what had happened with Alan, Charlie’s lover, and how New Life was indirectly responsible for his death. She revealed to Thomas that Alan was not only Charlie’s lover but also her brother.

Alan was also associated with New Life and had gone to South America to spread the word of God. Alan was not happy with his life, and he wanted to come back and start afresh, but he couldn’t do that because of his father. His father had found a girl for him at the church, but Alan didn’t want to marry her because he barely knew her. He was scared that the moment he came back to Iowa, his father would get him married to the girl, and he wouldn’t have a say in the matter. When Alan finally mustered the courage to return, he fell in love with Charlie, and obviously, being in a homosexual relationship had consequences, which his father considered nothing short of blasphemy.

Alan was kicked out of his family, and his father never accepted him throughout his life. Alan could never get over that, and he finally died because of the impact his father’s words and actions had on him mentally. Liz’s father told the congregation that Alan’s death was an unfortunate accident, but she knew it was more than that. She always blamed her father and his intolerant and obsolete religious beliefs for losing her brother. She told Thomas that the teachings he was propagating were hollow from within and didn’t hold any relevance for people like her and Charlie. She told him to go away and never come back to Charlie’s house again.

‘The Whale’ Ending Explained: Why Was Charlie Hopeful About Ellie? Was he Able To Reconcile With Her?

Ellie was probably the rudest and most misbehaving teenager one could imagine, and seeing her, one could tell she had serious issues that needed to be addressed as soon as possible. Charlie had a habit of exuding the utmost positivity even in the direst of circumstances, and it’s likely that he saw a silver lining in Ellie’s behavior as well, despite the fact that she portrayed the most abhorrent side of herself in front of him. She told him to write his essays after she learned that he taught the same thing at his university. Charlie had not met Ellie since his wife, Mary, had vociferously fought for full custody after their divorce. Charlie kept sending her child support and whatever other funds she needed, as he wanted Ellie to be brought up in the best possible manner. Ellie called Charlie disgusting, and it was not because of the way he looked but because he had abandoned her when she was eight, and it had ruined her from within. Not having a father around had a deep psychological impact on her, and she became this evil being who got gratified by making others subject to misery.

Ellie decided that there was no point in wasting time over things that couldn’t be changed now, so she started leaving, and that’s when we came to know about another secret of Charlie’s life. Charlie almost begged his daughter to stay and told her that in return he would give her a whopping sum. Till that moment, we believed that Charlie didn’t have money to pay for his insurance, but the reality was that he didn’t want to spend a penny on himself because he wanted to secure his daughter’s future. Ellie agreed to stay on the condition that Charlie does her essays because she apparently despised writing.

Mary came to know that her daughter was visiting her father, and she understood that he must have offered money to make her stay. She had this conversation in front of Liz, who had previously assumed that Charlie did not have that kind of money. Liz felt betrayed, but Charlie tried to make her understand why it was so important for him to do so. It was surprising that even after Ellie was extremely rude and unsympathetic towards Charlie, he believed that she was a good human being. Contrary to his perspective, Mary believed that her daughter was pure evil, and she never told Charlie anything about her horrendous behavior because she thought that would reflect badly on her and that people would call her a bad mother. She told Charlie the kind of things she had done and how she had posted a picture of him on social media, making fun of his obesity. But even then, Charlie didn’t like a word his wife said and stuck to his opinion that it was only the circumstances that had made her into a devil, though deep down, she was a good human being who wanted to help others.

Toward the end of the film “The Whale,” we see that Charlie finds proof of his daughter’s good nature when he accidentally comes to know that she has helped Thomas reconnect with her parents. Thomas wasn’t part of New Life, and he had run away from his home after stealing money from the church. He thought that his family wouldn’t accept him back, but Ellie had sent his pictures and a voice recording, in which he confessed his crimes, to his family without telling him.

Charlie accepted that he hadn’t done anything right in his life, and for the same reason, his conscience was burdened with guilt, so much so that he had lost the will to live. He always told Liz that he wanted to do one right thing before he died. He wanted his daughter to know that she was not a bad human being but a victim of the circumstances. He wanted her to know that there was good in her and that she only needed to change her attitude. We now know that Ellie wrote the analysis on Moby Dick that Charlie kept reading time and again when he was in pain. Charlie believed it to be the best piece of writing because it was the truth, and Ellie hadn’t shied away by sugarcoating her words.

When Ellie asked Charlie to write the essays for her, he gave her the same essay that she had written on Moby Dick. Ellie, without reading it, had submitted her assignment, and when she failed her examination, she came to confront Charlie, and that’s when she learned about it. Ellie had written in her analysis how, throughout the story, the author was just trying to save his audience from his own sad story. Mary had sent the essay to Charlie about four years ago, and since then, he had become obsessed with it. That day, Ellie called Charlie “daddy” for the first time, and it became a cathartic moment for the duo. Charlie got up from the couch without any support, and he started moving towards Ellie while she kept reading the extract from her analysis. While Charlie walked his last steps, all the fond memories kept coming back to him. In those last moments, Ellie had nothing but love for her father. She let bygones be bygones, and it felt like somebody had lifted a huge burden from her shoulders. Charlie’s miserable life came to an end, but before going, he made sure that Ellie knew that she was not a bad human being.

Final Words

“The Whale” is not the kind of film that you can watch time and again, and at times, you do not realize what exactly was the intention of the writers behind a particular scene or character. The film is highly predictable, and there is no plot point that you don’t see coming, probably because Darren Aronofsky paid more attention to creating an imagery that breaks stereotypes and prejudices than to creating an authentic storyline that has something new to offer the audience. Yes, we learn about a person’s plight who has a compulsive eating disorder, but that isn’t always enough to affect us. What holds you for the entire film is the earnest and spellbinding performances of Brendan Fraser as Charlie and Sadie Sink as Ellie. You can watch the film for the performances or if you want to know how an eating disorder can wreak havoc in the life of a person and completely destroy him physically and emotionally.

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‘The Whale’ Ending Explained: Brendan Fraser’s Uncomfortable Drama Ends With a Final, Cruel Tragedy

Where to stream:.

To say The Whale is a difficult watch is the understatement of the century. The movie—which is now available to purchase on digital platforms like Amazon Prime Video —is a relentlessly uncomfortable and cruel two hours documenting the (spoiler alert!) final week of a 600-pound man, who has isolated himself from the world, and is now facing imminent death due to health issues caused by his weight.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky—the same man who brought you uncomfortable, divisive movies like Black Swan and mother! — The Whale is based on a 2012 play of the same name by Samuel D. Hunter. Hunter, who also adapted the screenplay for film, based the story on his own experience with obesity in college. “I know many people who are big, happy, and healthy, but I wasn’t,” Hunter said in an interview for the films’ press notes. “I had a lot of unprocessed emotions from attending a fundamentalist Christian school where my sexuality came to bear in an ugly way, and that emerged in an unhealthy relationship with food. When I started writing The Whale, I think it all just came pouring out of me.”

Thus , The Whale features many hard-to-watch sequences of binge-eating junk food, beads of sweat rolling down Brendan Fraser’s heavily make-upped face, and Fraser struggling to move around in a squishy, rolling fat suit. If you manage to make it to the end of the film, you’ll be met with a moving but ambiguous conclusion. Don’t worry, Decider is here to help. Read on for an analysis of The Whale plot summary and ending explained, including what happens at the end of The Whale , and whether Charlie dies. Major spoilers ahead.

The Whale plot summary:

We meet Charlie (Brendan Fraser) as he is giving a virtual lecture for an online college English course. He keeps his camera off, telling his students that his webcam is broken. In reality, he is ashamed of his appearance as an obese, 600-pound man. Charlie can’t walk on his own and never leaves his house. Through the course of the film, he is visited by several recurring characters. There is Liz (Hong Chau), Charlie’s nurse friend who cares for him. Liz informs Charlie that his blood pressure is at a dangerous level, and that he needs to go to the hospital, or he will very likely die of congestive heart failure by the end of the week. Charlie refuses to go, citing the fact that he has no money and can’t afford the hospital bills. He instead decides to spend his last week of life attempted to reconnect with his estranged daughter.

Another visitor of Charlie’s is Thomas, a door-to-door missionary from an evangelical church called New Life. Thomas walks in on Charlie while he is hyperventilating and at risk of having a heart attack. Charlie thrusts an essay about Herman Melville’s Moby Dick into Thomas’s hands and instructs him to read it. After Charlie calms down, Thomas asks why Charlie asked him to read it. “I thought I was going to die, and I wanted to hear it one last time,” Charlie says. “It’s a really good essay.”

Charlie is also visited by his teenage daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink), whom he hasn’t seen since she was 8 years old. Charlie, a gay man, left Ellie and her mom when Ellie was 8 because he fell in love with one of his (adult) students. Charlie tells Ellie he wanted to be part of her life, but that her mother forbade him from seeing her. Ellie is an exceptionally angry teenager and is exceedingly cruel to her father. When Charlie learns that Ellie is in danger of flunking out of high school, he offers to help her with her upcoming essay. He also offers to pay her to spend time with him—all the money he has, which is over $100,000.

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Thomas the missionary returns to Charlie’s home because he believes he was sent by God at the exact right moment to help Charlie. Liz is upset by Thomas’s presence and tells him to leave Charlie alone. We learn that Liz’s brother, Alan, was Charlie’s romantic partner, as well as a member of the New Life church. Liz blames New Life for her brother’s extreme unhappiness—because he was told his sexuality went against the will of God—which eventually led to Alan jumping off a bridge and killing himself. Charlie, in his grief, began binge-eating in response.

Charlie’s health is rapidly declining. Liz brings Charlie a wheelchair to help him move around his house. Ellie once again visits Charlie and demands that he write her essay assignment. Charlie agrees. Despite how cruel Ellie is to Charlie, he insists she is an amazing person. Ellie slips Charlie sleeping pills, and while he is unconscious, Thomas the missionary once again comes to visit, and Ellie threatens to kill her father if Thomas doesn’t smoke pot with her. She snaps an incriminating photo of Thomas, and then confronts him: She knows he’s not from New Life, because she knows that New Life no longer has door-to-door missionaries.

Thomas confesses that while he used to be a missionary—after his parents sent him away to the church when they discovered him smoking pot–he grew frustrated with the church’s lack of social outreach and felt he wasn’t truly helping people. After a blow-out argument with the pastor, Thomas stole all of the church’s petty cash and left. He confesses to Ellie that he is almost out of money, but is too afraid to go home. Ellie secretly records his confession.

Liz and Ellie’s mother, Mary (Samantha Morton), show up and discover that Ellie has drugged her father. After Liz coaxes Charlie back to consciousness, she finds out that Charlie, despite his protests about hospital bills, does, in fact, have money. He’s just been saving all of it to give to Ellie. Liz is furious that Charlie has refused to buy the medical care and equipment he needs, and storms out. Ellie storms out too, telling her dad to “just fucking die already.” Charlie gives Ellie the essay she asked for before she leaves.

Charlie and Mary talk about their life and marriage. Charlie shares a memory of going to the beach with Ellie and Mary and swimming in the ocean. Mary tells Charlie one reason she kept Charlie away from Ellie is that she was afraid Ellie would hurt him. Mary says Ellie is “evil,” and shows Charlie a cruel picture of himself that Ellie posted on social media, mocking him. Charlie continues to insist that Ellie is amazing and that she’s a great writer. Mary leaves in tears, and Charlie, also in tears, tells her that he has to believe he’s done one good thing in his life, aka Ellie.

After Mary leaves, Charlie goes on a binge eating session that ends in him vomiting. He rashly posts a prompt on his students’ online message board, challenging them to write something honest. Thomas visits one last time and shows Charlie a Bible passage highlighted in Alan’s old Bible. Thomas believes Alan died because he turned his back on God and gave into “the flesh,” aka homosexuality. Charlie, for once, stands up for himself, and more or less tells Thomas to piss off. Thomas informs Charlie that Ellie sent his recorded confession to his church and parents, and that both parties forgave him, meaning he can finally go home.

In his final webinar class, Charlie reveals he has been fired. He reads some of his students’ responses to his prompt to be honest. Moved by their honesty, he vows to be honest in return and turns on his web camera to show them his entire body. The students react in shock and disgust.

The Whale ending explained:

On the last day of his life, Liz returns to Charlie to take care of him. Even though she is angry, she loves him. Charlie tells Liz that he believe Ellie ratted Thomas out because she wanted to help him, because, “people are amazing.” Ellie storms into the house, angry with Charlie because she failed her essay assignment. When she sees the shape Charlie is in, she uncertainly asks Liz what’s wrong. “He’s dying,” Liz replies. Ellie says to call an ambulance, but Charlie replies, “No.” Ellie asks to speak to Charlie alone, and although Liz doesn’t want to leave Charlie, she agrees. Liz seems to realize that she is saying goodbye to Charlie, and tells him she’ll wait downstairs.

Ellie demands to know why Charlie failed her assignment and accuses him of purposefully screwing her over. Charlie, who is beginning to hyperventilate, tells Ellie that he didn’t write the essay—she did. It’s an essay on Moby Dick that Ellie wrote in 8th grade. Ellie’s mom sent the essay to Charlie, and Charlie believes it’s the best essay he’s ever read. Charlie sobs that he is sorry for leaving Ellie. As he begins to actively have a heart attack, Ellie turns to leave. Charlie begs her to read her essay to him, and she relents. As Ellie reads about the whale in Moby Dick , Charlie stands to his full height, entirely on his own. (Get it? He’s the whale!)

With a massive effort, Charlie walks toward Ellie. When Ellie reads Charlie’s favorite line in the essay—”And I felt saddest of all when I read the boring chapters, that were just descriptions of whales, because I knew the author was trying to save us from his own sad story, just for a little while,”—Charlie imagines stepping into the ocean, all those years ago when he wasn’t so obese.

Ellie steps toward Charlie. She begins to read the next line of the essay, “This book made me think about my own life, and then it made me glad for my–” but she cuts off. Charlie and Ellie smile at each other. Then with a gasp, Charlie floats off the floor and into a bright white light. With that, the movie ends.

Does Charlie die in The Whale ?

Yes. While one could argue that The Whale ending is up for interpretation, my interpretation is that Charlie’s feet leaving the ground is a clear metaphor for Charlie’s body leaving this earth, aka, that he has died of heart failure. The movie has made it clear throughout that Charlie only has about a week to live, and is careful to denote each day of the week. Liz said at the beginning of the final scene that Charlie is dying.

This is slightly different from how the stage version of The Whale ends, with a hard cut to black. But in an interview with editor Andrew Weisblum for the film’s press notes, it seems clear that the filmmakers intended this scene to indicate “the end” of Charlie’s life, and that it mirror the first scene that Charlie has with Ellie. “It was important to set that up structurally, these two moments that reflect each other—where in one Charlie fails and in the other, he succeeds. The cutting patterns and shot choices of the two scenes are very similar. But the power of that final scene is that we know Charlie is facing the end.”

What was the end of Ellie’s essay in The Whale ?

But what about that final line of Ellie’s essay, that we never got to hear? What is she glad for? Unfortunately, we’ll never know. The full essay is never read in the movie and always cuts off before that final line.

While we never get to hear what it was that Ellie was glad for in her own life, it’s clear that this is the most impactful part of the essay for Charlie. Did she write that she was glad family, perhaps? Or is she glad her dad left her when he did, to spare her his sad story? Or for the fact that she has books to read, to escape her own sad story, just for a little while?

It’s up to you to fill in the blank. Because the movie is so bleak, I choose to interpret it as Ellie feeling grateful for both her mother and her father, who love her. I just need Charlie to know that Ellie was grateful for his love. He needed to know he did one good thing with his life, he said. Maybe he’s clinging to that essay because the final line, written by Ellie, confirms that he did.

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The Whale Ending Explained: Step Into The Light

Brendan Fraser in The Whale

"The Whale," is a controversial and devastating film that seems to be going in an obvious direction, but a growing undercurrent of hope leaves viewers guessing about where exactly our protagonist will end up. Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is an online schoolteacher whose binge eating has cost him his mobility, his health, the possibility of regular human interaction, and any semblance of normalcy. When he finally starts suffering from congestive heart failure and refuses to go to the hospital, he is given a prognosis of just a few remaining days. Charlie doesn't change his ways or seek proper medical attention, but he does finally reach out to his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink).

At their first meeting in years, the callous teenager challenges her father to walk toward her without the assistance of his walker. He fails at first, but in the final moments of the movie, he actually succeeds. As he makes his way to her, she reads him an analytical essay about Moby Dick that she wrote as a child. She does so at Charlie's request — he recites it to himself often throughout the film. He even has another character read it to him during his first health scare at the beginning of the movie because he wants it to be the last thing he hears before he dies.

Charlie makes his way to where his daughter stands in his doorway before levitating and disappearing into his fondest memory of his family. In this memory, he stands on the ocean shore with his feet in the water, while his young daughter plays in the sand and her mother watches on.

So what exactly does this memory mean? Why is it the last image of the Academy Award-winning film? Does Charlie really die in the end? And why is Charlie so fixated on this essay when it doesn't have any apparent relationship to his own life?

What you need to remember about the plot of The Whale

A few things remain sacred to Charlie as he slips into complete isolation and a fatal health crisis. One is Ellie, whom he hasn't seen in years before the events of the film. He remains connected to her through this essay. He is particularly fixated on a line where she says that "Moby Dick" allowed her to "think about my own life." This follows her analysis that Ahab thinks killing the whale will make his life better, but the whale is completely emotionless. This suggests that Ellie views her father as her own kind of whale — not because of his size, but because of his estrangement. She thinks that he is the cause of all the pain in her life and that he doesn't care about her at all, having not heard from him in years.

Charlie makes strides in repairing his relationship with Ellie over the course of the film, but he is scared of re-entering her life after his family fell apart when he left his wife for one of his male students. This love, which once offered solace, quickly became its own source of tragedy for Charlie when severe depression and emotional turmoil led his partner into life-threatening anorexia and suicide. Charlie avoids memories of his late partner, even the happy ones, and keeps them hidden away in a locked room or tucked into a bookshelf. But he does allow himself to ruminate on a happy memory of his family. Even though he is kept at bay by his affair, a custody battle, and eventually his weight gain, he knows they are out there living their lives still and thus allows himself to preserve a happy memory of them at the beach.

What happens at the end of The Whale?

At the end of "The Whale," Charlie makes a triumphant march to his daughter as she reads to him from the essay that he loves so much. Despite being on his deathbed (or perhaps death couch is more accurate), he manages to achieve a physical feat that he was unable to do days earlier. He rips off the tubes that aid his breathing, pushes himself to his feet, and trudges towards Ellie as she reads out the words he knows by heart. Just as he reaches her in the doorway, he ascends. His feet fly off the ground, his eyes turn to the heavens, and he is transported back to that peaceful day at the beach. In this memory, he is down to a healthier weight again. His feet are in the ocean, his young daughter plays in the sand, and his ex-wife Mary (Samantha Morton) haunts the edge of the frame like a specter, watching on.

So what exactly does this mean? Where is Charlie going? And did he actually get up and walk towards Ellie at all? The answer might seem cut and dry, but there are actually a few competing theories.

Did Charlie die in the end?

The most obvious conclusion to draw from this ending is that Charlie has perished from the congestive heart failure that is slowly killing him over the course of the film. The movie catalogs his final days, beginning on a Monday when his dear friend and nurse, Liz (Hong Chau), says he will be dead by the weekend. Although we don't see Charlie's dead body or his funeral, we know he is on the brink of death and that the strain he puts on his body by walking towards his daughter will likely cause his heart to finally fail. However, the ending is slightly ambiguous.

Part of the reason why Charlie's death is questionable is because it's unclear whether he wants to die or not. There are moments where he indulges dangerously in junk food and others where he stops himself, at least momentarily. His commitment to over-eating and reluctance to seek medical attention suggests that he is suicidal, but certain things hint at an optimism or will to live. He puts out apples for a bird that comes to his windowsill every day, something Ellie notices right away. Charlie also makes a last-ditch effort to reconnect with his daughter, and in getting to know her, finds a newfound love of humanity in general, declaring that, "People are amazing!" It almost seems too cruel that this reconnection with Ellie and subsequent optimism would come too late — when his body was too far gone to be saved — and that he would die anyway. So maybe that's not what happened.

Does Charlie go to heaven?

In Charlie's final moment, he retreats again to a memory of himself and his family on the beach. This memory, which Charlie references in conversation with his ex-wife in a previous scene, was a true moment of peace and clarity of spirit for him — perhaps the last he ever felt. So, is this heaven? The answer might guide the viewer as to whether or not Charlie died or not.

It's interesting that Charlie would end up in some version of heaven because of his complicated relationship with religion. Thomas (Ty Simpkins), a missionary from a local New Life church is a frequent guest at Charlie's house in the week leading up to his death. Charlie's late boyfriend Alan was the son of the head of the church and a devout follower. When his father found out about Alan's relationship with Charlie, he exiled him from the church, which is what sent Alan into a depressive episode that eventually led to his death. Charlie was at odds with Alan's faith when he was alive and remains at odds with it after his passing. This religion vehemently rejects homosexuality and insists that a sinner like Alan or Charlie would never get to heaven. The missionary encourages Charlie to deny his sexuality and bodily sins and ask for God's forgiveness so that he might gain salvation in the afterlife, but he refuses. How ironic would it be if Charlie ended up in a blissful eternity anyway?

The religious themes of the movie suggest that Charlie did in fact die and go to heaven in the end, but they may have just alluded to a kind of spiritual peace or death of ego that does not necessarily imply a physical death.

What has the cast and crew of The Whale said about the ending?

Brendan Fraser, who plays Charlie in "The Whale,"   has a theory about the film's ending that might surprise you. He described the ending to Entertainment Weekly and, in doing so, revealed that he does not think his character perishes in the final moments of the film:

"[I]t's a Herculean effort that he makes to even get to his feet. For him to finally break through to [Ellie], humble himself before her, and let her know that he made a mistake and is sorry for it. While his life has not physically ended in that moment, I think that he knows he doesn't need to live any longer, which is why he takes off his breather, he's got her reading the essay, and he does take to his feet like three Olympic dead-lifters, takes his baby steps to his baby, and in that beautiful two-shot, a great white light appears, and they look skyward. Depending on your belief system, spiritually or otherwise, we see that Charlie — with a touch of magic realism — finally does fly."

The white light and skyward look, along with the state of Charlie's health, definitely suggest that this is the moment his life "physically" ends, despite Fraser's interpretation. However, Charlie's march toward his daughter could be interpreted as a purely symbolic moment in itself.

"I think it's an apotheosis — you can take it how you want it," added playwright Samuel D. Hunter, who also adapted the work for the screen. "In the play, the way I wrote it is that you hear a sound of waves and they slowly intensify through that scene, so, there's a way to read it both ways. It wants to be miraculous, either literally or figuratively, and I think you can watch it either way."

The play had a surprising alternate ending

As it turns out, the choice to end the film with Charlie standing on the beach was entirely the idea of director Darren Aronofsky. The production of the play makes reference to Charlie's aforementioned memory through the sound of waves, but it ends abruptly, mid-sentence, with Charlie making his way to Ellie. Hunter gave his candid thoughts on Aronofsky's take on the ending in an interview with Digital Spy :

"The way the play ends is, Ellie has the last line of the essay: 'It made me feel glad for my ...' And she's cut off by the stage direction — 'a sharp intake of breath'. 'Charlie looks up, and has a sharp intake of breath. End of play.' I actually didn't know about the beach scenes until I saw a rough cut. It was just kind of an incredible surprise. I had no idea until I saw the rough cut, and I was so intensely moved by it. I was just like, 'Oh my God, that's perfect.' [...] In the play, it's the one moment that I script as he's giving that monologue about the Oregon coast that the sound of waves comes in. In the play, it's heightened, and expands a little bit. I think Darren [Aronofsky] took that idea, and kind of ran with it, in this gorgeous way."

Even though the movie ends in a slightly less ambiguous place than the stageplay, there is clearly still room for interpretation. Just like in the original piece from which it is adapted, the film dissolves its realism in this final scene and moves to a place of symbolism or magical realism. No matter how you interpret the ending of "The Whale," it certainly feels like a conclusive end to Charlie's story.

"The Whale" is currently available to stream on Showtime through Paramount Plus, and for rent on all the major streaming platforms.

The ‘cathartic release’ of ‘The Whale’ explained by the play’s actors and directors

Four actors playing the obese main character in "The Whale" onstage

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The following contains spoilers from the movie “The Whale,” now playing in theaters.

The movie version of “The Whale” ends with a breath, a bright light and a beach. The last visual shows the sun shining, the tide rising and falling, and a younger, slimmer version of the lead character, Charlie, staring out into the ocean as his daughter plays in the sand behind him.

If the serene seaside scene confused you, you’re not alone: That final flashback was a surprise to playwright and screenwriter Samuel D. Hunter, as director Darren Aronofsky tacked it on without discussing it with him. But the ending’s overall effect echoes the final moment of its source material, which actors and directors who’ve staged the popular play consider to be a release that, when performed, feels communal and generally satisfying for the audience in the room.

“The way it’s structured, this play is designed to slowly and repeatedly turn up the pressure until it almost can’t be tolerated,” said Davis McCallum, who directed a 2012 off-Broadway staging at Playwrights Horizons. “And then it has this really cathartic release at the end of the piece — a blackout, a sound effect, and a moment where the audience just lived in that silent darkness together.”

Both the play and the movie “The Whale” center on Charlie (Brendan Fraser), a reclusive, morbidly obese instructor of online writing classes who has been eating himself to death since the passing of his lover, a casualty of religious homophobia.

An obese man wearing a button-up shirt sits in a dark room

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The character is an amalgamation of Hunter’s past lives: as a closeted gay kid attending a fundamentalist Christian school in rural Idaho, a depressed adult who silently self-medicated with food, and an expository writing instructor for college freshmen (the piece’s heartbreakingly honest line “I think I need to accept that my life isn’t going to be very exciting” is an actual submission from one of Hunter’s students).

Throughout “The Whale,” Charlie is visited by his estranged and troubled daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink) , and his frustrated ex-wife, Mary (Samantha Morton), both of whom Charlie abandoned when he ended his marriage and came out as gay; Liz (Hong Chau) , a conflicted caregiver who is also the sibling of Charlie’s late lover; and Thomas (Ty Simpkins), a fundamentalist missionary who is far from home. Hunter doesn’t shy away from any of the issues the characters are dealing with “but doesn’t bury you in [them] either,” said Martin Benson, who directed a 2013 staging at South Coast Repertory. “He’s not advocating anything, he’s just writing what he believes is true.”

These characters and their concerns are similar to those in Hunter’s other plays, which tackle subjects “fundamental to Greek tragedy: the limitation of humanity’s vision, the place of religion in society and the desperate longing for relief from the lonely uncertainty of life,” wrote Times critic Charles McNulty when Hunter received the MacArthur “genius” grant in 2014. “He proceeds not with a moral point but through observation of the way his characters either defend their bunkered existences or attempt to reach beyond them — or more commonly, some combination of the two.”

An actor in shirt and tie talks to an obese man seated on a couch in a play.

Throughout the intimate live piece — which is staged without the escape of an intermission — all five characters reveal truths to each other and the audience that raise the stakes of their potential bonds.

“These deeply flawed characters actually care about each other so much, but there are so many obstacles for them to express that love or connect with one another in real ways, however desperately or destructively,” said Joanie Schultz, who directed a 2013 production at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater. “So when some of them finally do, it’s gorgeous and almost magical.”

Numerous stagings of “The Whale” accentuate the pressure-cooker effect by designing Charlie’s living room, where the entirety of the play unfolds, with an extra sense of claustrophobia or isolation. For example, the 2014 Bay Area run raised the Marin Theatre Company stage by four feet and angled Charlie’s ceiling so that, from the audience’s perspective, the character appeared to “dominate the space in a way that intimidated the people who visited him,” said director Jasson Minadakis.

Likewise, the off-Broadway version strategically lit the space “so that it felt as if his room were hovering in this dark void,” said director McCallum; the Chicago staging positioned the proscenium “like an island in the sea, which was really effective because they’re all alone on their own islands in some ways, with all these barriers to connection,” said director Schultz.

A woman kneels next to an obese man who has on his face tubing providing oxygen in a play.

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Within these confined spaces, the actors who played Charlie — each wearing body suits weighing anywhere from 30 to 100 pounds — charted his arc physically and emotionally. As he attempts to nudge daughter Ellie toward a place of authentic self-expression, he too reveals himself to his students. The intention is that, by the time Charlie shares that he’s giving his life savings to Ellie, and endures great pain to stand up and walk toward her as she reads her “Moby-Dick” essay aloud to him, the audience would feel the overwhelming fulfillment Charlie gets during his final breath in the play.

“Every night, it was a journey, and it wasn’t easy to watch or to perform,” recalled Tom Alan Robbins, who starred in the 2012 world premiere in Denver. “His goal is self-destructive, but you want the audience to understand what has driven him to do this, and that his redemption is in the relationship he tries to forge with his daughter. You want that last second to be a combination of incredible pain and incredible triumph because, however briefly it is that they connect, it’s still an achievement for him.”

“Ellie says terrible, devastating things to Charlie throughout the whole thing, but he loves her so much that it doesn’t even hurt him,” said Matthew Arkin, who played Charlie at South Coast Repertory. “So in that final moment, whatever flaws he had, whatever mistakes he made and in whatever ways he couldn’t love himself enough, he lived a life redeemed, because he gave everything to save his daughter.”

Whether Charlie dies at the end of “The Whale” is up for debate. As written in Hunter’s script, the stage directions of that breath simply read, “A sharp intake of breath. The lights snap to black.” Many theater makers say that breath could very well be his last inhale, after which he is finally freed from the pains of his body, his loneliness, his grief. “The love and connection that Charlie gives Ellie is a gift, and hopefully she will remain true to her voice and herself in a way that he gave up on,” said Hal Brooks, who directed the Denver premiere.

It also could be considered in a metaphorical way, mimicking “how whales immerse themselves for so long underwater and then they finally come up to the surface,” said Schultz, or “a deep intake of breath before diving in somewhere they’ve never gone before,” said Shuler Hensley, who played Charlie in the New York run as well as a London staging in 2018. “It’s a brilliant ending, because audience members have constantly told me they couldn’t breathe afterwards. They didn’t know what to do, whether to applaud or get up or move because they’ve become so connected to Charlie.”

A young woman sitting on a couch near an obese man sitting on a desk in a play.

When asked about the ending, Hunter didn’t clarify Charlie’s status because, he said, it’s not necessarily relevant. “The final moments of this play and this movie abandon realism a little bit, and it’s no longer about this guy in this apartment,” he explained. “What matters is that he’s connected with Ellie, he’s done the thing that he’s been trying to do throughout this entire play, and that connection feels real and genuine. There’s this apotheosis that happens, and in the film, Charlie literally ascends off the ground.”

Though Hunter didn’t write the beach scene that follows Charlie’s onscreen ascension, he called it “marvelous” and shared an interpretation of what it might mean: “If it’s a flashback to the last time Charlie went swimming in the ocean, close to when the family fell apart, what I see in that shot is a man staring down the abyss of self-actualization, contemplating the decision he has to make about the different avenues he can take.

“Maybe he was thinking about what would happen if he stayed in that marriage: Ellie would have grown up with a closeted father, [his lover] Alan would have been miserable and, as Liz points out, would have probably died way before he did when he was with Charlie,” Hunter continued. “Choosing to stay or leave, both paths are complicated and tragic in their own ways, but ultimately, I think Charlie took the more hopeful route, and chose to look for the salvation one can find through human connection.”

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ellie's essay the whale meaning

Ashley Lee is a staff reporter at the Los Angeles Times, where she writes about theater, movies, television and the bustling intersection of the stage and the screen. An alum of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Critics Institute and Poynter’s Power of Diverse Voices, she leads workshops on arts journalism at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. She was previously a New York-based editor at the Hollywood Reporter and has written for the Washington Post, Backstage and American Theatre, among others. She is currently working remotely alongside her dog, Oliver.

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The Review Geek

The Whale (2022) Ending Explained – What happens to Charlie?

[trigger warning – suicide]

The Whale Plot Synopsis

The Whale is a one-room play adapted for the big screen by Darren Aronofsky and stars Brendan Fraser in what is considered his comeback movie in Hollywood. The melodrama is a heartwrenching tale of Charlie, an English teacher who has let himself go and gotten morbidly obese after the passing of his partner.

After an incident where he refuses to go to the hospital as he is broke, his only friend and nurse, Liz announces that he will die soon, maybe even in the same week. Charlie must tie up all loose ends including reaching out to his estranged daughter who is not about to make things simple for him.

ellie's essay the whale meaning

What is the Moby Dick essay?

When we first see Charlie, he gets some kind of attack while he is jerking off to porn. As he thinks he is dying, he tries to read an essay on Moby Dick but it falls to the ground. At that moment, a New Life missionary, Thomas comes knocking and Charlie begs him to read the essay for him. As Thomas reads it, Charlie calms down and says he wanted to hear it one last time as he thought he was dying. 

That night, Charlie recites the essay by heart which describes Moby Dick, the whale as a poor big animal. The essayist also feels for Ahab because he thinks his life will be better if he kills the whale, but it will never help him and Charlie relates to both characters. The writer also finds the chapters which spend pages describing the whale boring and as an English teacher, Charlie finds the honesty refreshing. It is later revealed that the essay was written by his daughter, Ellie.

ellie's essay the whale meaning

Why does Ellie start hanging out with Charlie?

Ellie is the angry teen daughter of Charlie with his ex-wife Mary who makes her classmates cry, is sarcastic and is bad at school. They did not see each other after she turned 8 as Mary got full custody after Charlie had an extramarital affair. As he is told he is dying, Charlie reaches out to Ellie who shows up and is constantly rude to him. She is angry at him for leaving her and cheating on her mother and for never staying in touch. 

Charlie tries to reconcile in any which way possible and so offers to pay her $120,000 and help her with school in exchange that she should hang out with him. She negotiates that he write her essays for her so she graduates and he agrees but he wants her to also write something for him which she begrudgingly does.

ellie's essay the whale meaning

Who is Alan and what happens to him?

Alan was Liz’s brother and was part of a New Life church that his father ran. Alan truly believed in the church and even went to South America to do missionary work. And while he was lonely and tired, he did not want to come back home as his father had arranged his marriage to a girl he did not know.

When Alan did come back, he came with a partner which angered his father who kicked him out of the church. With the church being his life, it got to him as Alan did not eat or sleep in his last few days. Finally, one day he was found dead in the river. While his father called it an accident, Liz and his partner felt that he had killed himself.

Turns out, the partner was none other than Charlie. Alan had been a student in the night school where Charlie taught. While he was an adult, Charlie knew that it was wrong but he was in a bad space when he was married to Mary. Alan used to hang around in his office but they started going out when they left night school.

ellie's essay the whale meaning

Why does Ellie keep taking everyone’s photo?

When Ellie first starts visiting, she randomly takes photos of Charlie and Thomas in unflattering scenarios. After she threatens Thomas into smoking marijuana and takes his photo, he is upset and locks himself in Alan’s room. As he starts opening up to her, she secretly takes an audio recording of him.

She finds out that he is not from New Life because they stopped doing door-to-door and she asks him about it. He reveals that he was a missionary but in Waterloo. His father wanted him to leave when he found out he was a stoner. But Thomas left because he didn’t like how his church worked, simply handing out pamphlets. He wanted to truly help people and thought personal interactions would be better.

He started doing door-to-door preaching and when he told Jerry, the leader they got into an argument. In a fit of rage, he took the petty cash of $2,400 from the church and left. He says he wants to save at least one person and thought it could be Charlie. However, he’s almost out of money and he can’t go back because he will be disowned. Ellie then ends up tracking down Thomas’ parents and sends them the audio recording.

Meanwhile, her mother Mary shows Charlie the photos she takes, she puts them up on social media and adds insulting captions. She calls Ellie evil while Charlie just thinks she is honest. While Ellie doesn’t verbalise her motives behind it, she ends up intentionally or unintentionally helping Thomas.

The young missionary comes and tells Charlie about Ellie tracking down his parents. But the twist is that they forgive him, are not mad about him stealing the money and want him to come back home. While Charlie is dying, he has an epiphany and claims that Ellie was not trying to hurt Thomas but help him as people are inherently good.

ellie's essay the whale meaning

What spurs Charlie’s breakdown?

Mary comes with Liz when she hears about Ellie hanging out with Charlie and is shocked to see his appearance. She ends up telling Liz about the $120k he had been saving for Ellie who is upset as she thought he was broke. Liz angrily tells him that they could have gotten him anything he needed for his health. She had even declined his money when her truck broke down as she thought he was broke and would walk through the snow to get him food. Without waiting to hear Charlie’s reasoning, she leaves. 

In the meantime, Ellie says she hates Charlie and leaves with the essay he wrote for her.

Mary and Charlie are left alone and as she drinks she explains that after she took full custody, she kept their daughter away because Ellie is awful and thought he would think Mary was a bad mother. Then she kept her away because she didn’t want Ellie to hurt Charlie. 

Charlie tells her he reached out because he is dying and she is angry. She tells him to go to the hospital and he says the money is for Ellie. He asks her to make sure Ellie grows up to be a good person but she leaves without promising it. Meanwhile, Dan the delivery guy who was always nice to Charlie, waits to see Charlie’s appearance at the next delivery by tricking him and is disgusted.

Charlie doesn’t think much of it but then he sees Ellie’s post about him being fat that Mary had left open on his laptop. He had commended her honesty and feels angry at those who are fake like Dan. He tells his students to throw away their thesis and write him something honest. He then finishes every food item in the house and pukes it out. 

At that moment, Thomas comes and tells Charlie the truth about himself. He says while he did something wrong, it brought him to Charlie and that he can save him as he pulls out Alan’s Bible that he had found in his room. He says that Alan didn’t live for the spirit but in the flesh aka committing homosexuality which is why he died.

After Charlie confirms that Thomas is being homophobic, he gets angry and starts recounting how they dated and made love and describes his body which disgusts Thomas who runs away.

ellie's essay the whale meaning

Does Charlie die?

Charlie refuses to go to the hospital or make any changes to his lifestyle at the beginning of the film after his blood pressure shoots up and he has congestive heart failure. Liz then declares that Charlie will die soon. His wheezing starts getting worse and he has to breathe through an oxygen tank.

After his breakdown in which he binge eats and gets stressed, his condition worsens. When Liz visits him at the end of the week, his skin is pale and he continuously sweats. At that moment, Ellie barges in and is angry as she failed because of the essay that Charlie wrote for her.

He asks her to read it, and she realises that it is the essay on Moby Dick she had written back in 8th grade. Mary had sent it to him and he apologizes for leaving Ellie and describes her and the essay as amazing. She cries as she wants him to go to the hospital when he cries in pain. But he asks her to read the essay which she angrily does.

As she does, he starts to get up on his own and walks towards her. She reduces the gap between them and as she finishes the essay, he is lifted into the light. It cuts to the flashback at the beach with Ellie which was peaceful memory for Charlie hinting that it is the last memory he saw before he died.

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9 thoughts on “the whale (2022) ending explained – what happens to charlie”.

What is Charlie’s last name

Hi @David, no Ellie does not kill Alan. It is hinted that he either died in an accident or committed suicide by drowning. But if you are talking about Thomas, the missionary, Ellie contacts his parents who forgive him and ask him to come home.

Did Ellie kill Alan?

Ellie is so scared by the dessertion of her father, she wants to get everything home. She sends Thomas’s recording to his parents, they forgive him and wants him home. She breaks the plate to feed the birds on the kitchen windowsill, because she wants the bird to go home. She is an unsurprisingly angry teenager, with a Dad who she thinks abandoned her and a Mum who thinks she is evil and I feel for her. She is a good person, but she is angry, hurt and confused too. A story overwhelming about love and loss, but mostly love.

I felt the same way as Ellie’s mother also mentioned that she is evil.

Hey, he sees the Bible that Alan got during his time in New Life. It seems to represent New Life which Charlie blames for Alan’s death; which is why when he looks at it his mood changes.

I want to know what Charlie saw in the locked bedroom after he smelled something and looked towards the bookcase

Do you mean Thomas the missionary? If Mary had said that, yeah it would totally make sense since she sees her daughter as ‘evil’. However, since Charlie is optimistic and always sees the best in people, he definitely sees it as Ellie helping Thomas go back to a forgiving and loving home. And since Mary had gone on and on about how Ellie is horrible for posting mean things about people online, Charlie thinks she is wrong about Ellie’s motives. He thinks Ellie is honest and that people including her have an innate need to help and be kind. This is why he gives that little speech about her and Thomas in the end.

I didn’t get why Charlie talked about Ellie sending Allen “home”. It almost sounded like he was saying she did something fatal to him.

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The Whale ending explained: what happens?

Brendan Fraser stars in The Whale.

Brendan Fraser in The Whale

NOTE: spoilers ahead for The Whale .

Audiences are now able to watch The Whale , the drama that is being billed as Brendan Fraser 's career-defining performance. The movie sees Fraser play an English teacher named Charlie who is suffering from severe obesity and is told if his unhealthy ways go unchecked it could ultimately kill him. But before that can happen, Charlie is determined to reconnect with his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink).

Daren Aronofsky directed The Whale , which in addition to Fraser and Sink stars Hong Chau ( The Menu ), Ty Simpkins ( Jurassic World ) and Samantha Morton ( The Serpent Queen ). Check out What to Watch's thoughts on the movie in our The Whale review .

But if you've already seen The Whale and want to get some clarity on what happened in that ending, we've got you covered.

Does Charlie die in The Whale?

The Whale wastes little time in showing just how poorly Charlie is doing wealth-wise. In the opening moments, he becomes short of breath and nearly passes out. Thankfully, the young missionary Thomas (Simpkins) is there to help him, reading an essay on Moby Dick that manages to help Charlie gain his composure. 

When his friend and caretaker Liz (Chau) gets there, she tells him that his blood pressure is at a dangerous level and that if he does not go to the hospital he could die by the end of the week from heart failure. Despite this, Charlie is adamant that he will not go to the hospital, saying he can't afford it.

Instead, he attempts to reconnect with his daughter Ellie, who he left when she was just 8 years old when Charlie came out of the closet and began living with his new partner. She is understandably angry at him, but Charlie convinces her to stay saying that he will help her with her homework and pay her everything that he has, which is actually more than $100,000.

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Sadie Sink in The Whale

They spend a few days getting to know each other, though Ellie rarely pulls back on her anger toward him and even gives him Ambien to knock him out. When Liz arrives and sees this (with Ellie's mom), she learns that Charlie convinced Ellie to spend time with him by offering the money. Liz is frustrated that Charlie did not choose to use this money for his medical expenses.

After everyone leaves, Charlie has his dinner delivered, left as usual on his porch by the regular delivery guy. When Charlie goes to retrieve it, the delivery guy sticks around to see Charlie for the first time and his look of shock drives Charlie into an eating binge.

The next day, Liz confirms that Charlie's time is almost up. Ellie storms in, upset that the essay Charlie gave her to turn in got an F. The reason why it did was because it was not on the subject Ellie was assigned, but the Moby Dick essay Charlie had Thomas read to him. It was an essay Ellie wrote when she was younger and that Charlie tells her is a good, honest piece of writing. He asks her to read it to him one last time now that he is dying, but she refuses and goes to leave. However, she stops at the door, tearful, and decides to read it.

As she does, Charlie struggles to his feet and, without any assistance, takes painful steps toward Ellie, doing what he wanted her and his students to do — be completely honest and reveal their true selves. As he reaches Ellie, he takes a final deep breath, looks up and everything fades to white as Charlie dies.

Is The Whale a true story? 

The Whale is not based on a true story. However, it is based on a play of the same name by Samuel D. Hunter. 

The play version of The Whale was first performed in 2012. It would go on to win numerous awards, including the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Play, a 2013 Drama Desk Special Award for Significant Contribution to Theaters, the 2013 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding New York Theater and more.

Hunter was brought on to write the adaptation of his play for the movie version of The Whale , which more or less follows the same format.

The Whale is now playing exclusively in movie theaters.

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca , Moulin Rouge! , Silence of the Lambs , Children of Men , One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars . On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd .

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'The Whale' Ending Explained: What Happens in Brendan Fraser’s Comeback?


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This gritty time-travel sci-fi thriller remains one of netflix's grimiest movies, elisabeth moss rocks (literally) in this nightmarish, destructive drama.

Editor's Note: The following contains spoilers for The Whale Darren Aronofsky ’s The Whale has already proven to be one of the most controversial films of the year, which isn’t all that surprising considering Aronofsky’s history of making divisive projects. While Brendan Fraser has received widespread acclaim for his powerful performance as the overweight professor Charlie, the film has been perceived as “fatphobic” by some critics. It will be interesting to see where The Whale ends up landing this awards season; some view it as emotionally devastating, while others consider it to be manipulative and overtly cruel.

What Is 'The Whale' About?

The Whale is based on a play of the same name by Samuel D. Hunter , and Aronofsky’s adaptation does a good job of reflecting the intimacy of a stage performance. The film takes place entirely within Charlie’s apartment as his friend Liz ( Hong Chau ) comes to care for him. Charlie has managed to isolate himself from the world; he communicates with his students via Zoom but does not ever show his face. Charlie decides to reconnect with his daughter, Ellie ( Sadie Sink ), who has no interest in him. Charlie agrees to help write her English papers if she will spend time with him and write personal essays from her heart.

Towards the end of the film, Charlie’s world begins to crumble. After making a series of inflammatory messages to his students, he’s fired from his job. His ex-wife, Mary ( Samantha Morton ), confronts him about his relationship with Ellie and criticizes him for his failures in their marriage. After being alerted that he has congestive heart failure, Charlie goes on an eating binge and consumes pizza until he vomits. It’s an emotionally overwhelming experience, especially toward the very final moments of the story.

Brendan Fraser photographed at 600 pounds

Why Does Mary Not Want Charlie to See Ellie?

As Charlie reveals early on, he is openly gay and was in a relationship with one of his former students, Alan. Following Alan’s death, Charlie began compulsively eating, prompting Alan’s sister Liz to come and take care of him. As part of their arrangement, Mary forbids Charlie from contacting Ellie; she reacts with rage when she realizes he’s asked her to visit him. While Charlie is apologetic for his failure as a father, he does not apologize for his sexuality. In one of the most powerful scenes in the film, Charlie stands up to the missionary boy Thomas ( Ty Simpkins ), whose religion preaches homophobic messaging.

What Happened to Thomas?

As Mary reveals to Charlie, Ellie has been bullying people online through a private Facebook page. Mary feels that she has raised a cruel child and despite how Charlie has hurt the family, Ellie is the true “monster” in their family. In addition to posting pictures of her father, Ellie sends photos of Thomas (a former addict) to his church and family. Despite the seemingly cruel action, Thomas tells Charlie that he has newfound faith in people, as his parents have reached out to forgive him and welcome him home. Thomas also finds a picture of Charlie with Alan and realizes that he only put on the weight as a means of coping with his partner’s suicide.

RELATED: ‘The Whale’ Review: May the “Brenaissance” Continue Beyond Darren Aronofsky's Film

What Happened to Ellie?

Even though her father has been ghostwriting her essays so she can graduate, Ellie lashes out at Charlie when she realizes that he sent in an essay that she wrote when she was younger. Charlie feels that the essay is “honest” in a way that he appreciates, as he’s irritated by his students’ generic responses to his questions and prompts. He’s kept the essay for years and uses it to comfort himself. He tells Ellie how beautiful and talented she is, and for the first time, Ellie believes it. Even though Ellie spends the majority of the story mocking other people, she is in denial of her own talents and insecurities.

Liz staring intently in The Whale

What Was Going on With the Pizza Delivery Boy?

Throughout the film, Charlie orders pizza online and has the delivery boy, Dan ( Sathya Sridharan ), leave it outside his door. While Dan tries to spark a conversation with him because he visits Charlie’s apartment so often, Charlie refuses to step outside and show his face. However, Dan decides to wait on the porch when Charlie comes to pick up the pizza and finally sees him for the first time. His immediate response is to look at Charlie in disgust.

What is Charlie Trying to Do at the End?

Charlie’s ultimate goal is to be completely honest with everyone around him. He refuses to apologize for his homosexuality to Thomas, and chastises him for thinking of him as “disgusting.” He realizes that even though Ellie appears to be cynical, she is really just seeking approval. He even shows his face to his students, and compliments some of the responses that they left in the last message board post that he felt were more honest than their previous work.

Sadie Sink as Ellie in The Whale

What Is Happening to Charlie in the Film’s Final Moments?

Charlie is dying at the very end and refuses to go to the hospital. As he bonds with Ellie, he attempts to stand. Between the effort of moving and his overall mental state, Charlie dies and ascends into an idealized version of heaven. It’s not the first time that Aronofsky has tackled religious imagery within his films. Both Noah and The Fountain directly deal with faith, spirituality, the afterlife, and the stories of the Bible-inspired mother! While Charlie meets his fate, he’s able to feel accomplished and unashamed.

What are the Differences Between the Play and the Film?

While both the original stage production and the film are very similar, Hunter made some changes to the script when translating it to a feature. Certain elements of the story, such as the Zoom calls and personal photographs, are detailed in a way that wasn’t possible on stage. While the play was released in 2012, the film takes place amidst the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, as news footage can be seen in the background. The endings are the same, but the film is slightly more hopeful, as Charlie feels that he has accomplished something greater.

  • Movie Features
  • The Whale (2022)

The Ending Of The Whale Explained

Charlie gray shirt

Darren Aronofsky , the director of "Black Swan" and "Requiem for a Dream," returns with "The Whale," a new film that sees actor Brendan Fraser make the comeback performance of a lifetime in an emotional story of compassion. The film, based on the 2012 play of the same name , follows Charlie (Fraser), a reclusive 600-pound man looking to reconnect with his distant daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink), while dealing with a resurgence of past mistakes. As Charlie, Fraser shows a range of emotions not seen in his past performances and leads a focused tale full of triumph and heartache. 

From the realization of his worsening health to the constant conflicts stemming from Charlie's past mistakes bleeding into the present, "The Whale" has a strong emotional pull that carries through to its tear-jerking ending. There's nothing as cathartic as watching "The Whale's" final act, which sees Charlie confronting himself and making better efforts to reconnect with Ellie. There are also unexpected revelations, burning themes, and closing arcs that all come so suddenly that the impact of some things could've slipped by. Looper is here to clear things up and dissect everything that happened during "The Whale's" finale 

The truth behind Thomas' visits

When we first meet Thomas (Ty Simpkins), we learn that he's a missionary who goes door to door spreading the word of the cult-like religious group he's a part of that believes the world is ending. While Charlie can accept him since he does help him at the start of the film, his nurse and friend, Liz (Hong Chau), outwardly criticizes Thomas, as both she and Charlie have a bad past with his group. However, Ellie is much more inquisitive about Thomas and is eventually able to get him to open up about himself, which leads to quite a revelation. 

It turns out that Thomas actually isn't a part of that group at all. He's just a runaway who left his home because of his frustration with the religious practices of his church and stole money from them to finance his trip. This reveal makes sense since he constantly said he was "new" to the group and didn't know the name of Liz's father, who leads the group. This also adds to Thomas' belief that he's ordained by God to help Charlie since he became frustrated by his old church's ability to spread its word and sees Charlie as an opportunity for self-fulfillment. It's an unexpected reveal that makes Thomas less of an innocent follower.

Ellie's picture collection

From her first appearance, it's tough to get a read on Ellie because of how closed off she is, and you can't help but question her real intentions. One thing that stands out as strange is how she takes pictures of Charlie and Thomas at different points in the film. Ellie takes pictures of Charlie struggling to use his walker and Thomas when he's smoking weed. Although it just seems like nothing at first, Ellie uses these photos for disturbing projects. 

Ellie uses the photo she takes of Charlie to ridicule him on social media, making fun of his weight and telling him to burn in hell. As for Thomas, she sends the photos of him smoking to his family after hearing his story, and it ultimately results in him reconnecting with his family. Although Ellie's photography might seem harmless at first, it has big implications for those in the photos, and it doesn't always yield positive results. 

The loss of Charlie's lover

After the death of his lover, Alan, Charlie develops an eating disorder that leads him to become incredibly overweight and suffer dangerous health issues. Although Charlie is generally unwilling to talk about Alan's death, Liz finds a moment to talk to Thomas about it. Alan's death also impacted her because he was her brother. According to Liz, her father, who leads the religious group that Thomas is supposedly a part of, was very hard on Alan after he came back from a mission and decided to not engage in the arranged marriage that he set up for him.

Instead, Alan decided to pursue a relationship with Charlie, leading to his father kicking him out of the group and the family. However, Alan still couldn't shake the impact of his upbringing and spiraled into a bout of depression that ended in him taking his own life. This would have a devastating effect on both Charlie and Liz and explains why they're so close. Liz is shown to be protective of Charlie from the start, and the story of Alan's death establishes why. That Charlie, too, could soon die is likely a gut-wrenching feeling for Liz. 

If you need help with an eating disorder or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by callin g 1 -800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Charlie's massive money

To get Ellie to spend more time with him, Charlie makes an offer that he'll pay her for the time she spends with him. It's a hefty amount. His offer of around $120,000 is unsurprisingly too good for Ellie to pass up, and it remains a big motivator for her throughout the film — along with Charlie rewriting her essays to help her graduate from school. However, given his conversations with Liz about not being able to afford better living conditions or a hospital visit, it's tough to believe that he has that money. 

In a conversation with Mary (Samantha Morton), it is revealed that Charlie  does have that money, and it leads to some other realizations and conflicts. Liz is frustrated by Charlie since he could've used that money to help himself and get the medical assistance he needs. Liz's belief that Charlie was broke played a role in some of the sacrifices she's made for him, leaving her feeling like she's been taken advantage of. However, Charlie would've likely never given up any of the money anyway since he always planned for Ellie to have it all. 

A tumultuous reunion

It's no secret that Charlie's marriage to his ex-wife, Mary, ended in shambles. He left her and Ellie to pursue a relationship with Alan, leading Mary to cut ties with him completely. However, when Mary arrives at Charlie's after learning that Ellie is there, we get a clearer glimpse into their fractured relationship and Mary as a character. In their time alone for the first time in a long time, we see these two more open and honest than ever before, and it's a strong example of their complicated relationship.

Although the two end up fighting over what happened between them, Mary is shown to be much more compassionate than previously suggested. She not only shows sorrow for Charlie for his current condition but even tells him a story about helping Alan before he died. This doesn't mend their relationship, and Mary still leaves in a fury over these resurfaced feelings, yet this scene shows the genuine care that remains in their relationship and how Charlie's decision to leave still causes ripples in their family.

A secret room

About halfway through "The Whale," Charlie tries to retrieve a key sitting atop a closed door – only for it to fall into a place he can't reach. Luckily, he gets Thomas to grab the key for him, and he opens a room that looks untouched and pristine compared to the rest of his house. At first, it's tough to figure out what this spare bedroom exactly is, but it eventually becomes pretty clear. 

Even before Thomas grabs a Bible with Alan's name on it from the room, it's obvious that this room is Charlie and Alan's old bedroom. After Alan's death, Charlie was unable to enter the room again and has never let anyone inside. He probably only unlocked it recently because Alan has been brought up in conversation again. He now sees it as solace as he heads towards a tragic end. There are no flashbacks that give us a real look at Charlie and Alan's relationship, but seeing Charlie's face when he looks into the room shows the real love he has for him still.

Charlie's final hope

Throughout "The Whale," Charlie is shown to be incredibly desperate in wanting to reconnect with Ellie. He's not only willing to pay a bunch of money to get her to keep him company but even offers to rewrite her essays to help her graduate. Even when Ellie is immensely cold towards Charlie, he still yearns for her love, and that makes you wonder what Charlie exactly wants from reconnecting with her. 

However, when talking with Mary, Charlie opens up about his desire to reconnect with his daughter, saying that he simply wants her to have the best life possible to create a sense of redemption within himself. He simply sees helping Ellie as the last thing he can do before dying to leave things on a better note and feel like he did something right. It's the wish that any parent would have for their child, and Charlie doesn't want Ellie to feel like she can't accomplish things because of how their family has fractured. 

Charlie's sense of positivity

Even when the worst things are happening to him, Charlie generally has a positive outlook on life and those around him. When Thomas is chastised by Liz or Ellie does something that even her mother views as evil, Charlie always shows compassion to those around him. For Charlie, though, this positivity is both a gift and a curse. While it is nice that he tries to find the good in things, it can lead to him ignoring real problems in his life and not being able to confront things. 

For instance, while it's nice that he makes an effort to remind Ellie that he thinks she's amazing, it doesn't heal the hurt she's suffered from their estrangement. This overt sense of positivity is also what leads to Charlie losing his faith and desiring to see only harsh truths that make "The Whale's" final act really tear at your heart. However, even when Charlie hits his lowest point, he is able to find the good in things again, leading to an emotional final sequence between him and Ellie. Charlie's journey throughout "The Whale" is about finding and understanding the truth about yourself without losing that sense of compassion that makes us care for one another as well as ourselves. 

A final revelation

As shown in the opening shots, Charlie keeps his webcam off when talking to his class because he doesn't want them to see what he looks like. However, after sending them an assignment that asks them to simply be honest, Charlie makes the bold choice to turn his camera on for the first time. With the assignment (or more so the wording of it) getting Charlie fired from his position and his students' submissions inspiring him, he decides to show them who their professor really is. 

In most other movies, this would be played like a truly inspirational moment. Yet, with Darren Aronofsky helming, it feels like a dark slice of reality, as some of Charlie's students can be seen reacting in shock around his square in the chatroom. It's a gut-wrenching affirmation of the truth that Charlie has been trying to hide from for quite some time, and the way it ends, with him throwing his laptop across the room, is legitimately painful. It's a moment you knew was coming, but still feels like a brutal punch to the gut. 

The essay's author

When we're first introduced to Thomas, as he helps Charlie during a painful incident of heart failure, we also learn about an essay on "Moby Dick" that Charlie loves. For most of the film, we're left unsure who the author of this essay is. We just know that it acts as sort of a calming mantra for Charlie that reminds him of something he loves. In the final moments of "The Whale," we discover that Ellie is the author of the essay and that it's been a pivotal part of Charlie's connection to her. 

Any time Charlie is in pain or on the verge of death, he either repeats part of the essay to himself or gets someone to read it to him. With the knowledge that Ellie is the author, hearing her essay acts as a reminder for Charlie of his final wish to make sure that she is in a good place before dies. It's a reveal that kicks off a deeply emotional final sequence between Charlie and Ellie that is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally charged moments in the film. 

Charlie and Ellie's final reckoning

The final moments of "The Whale" are full of rich emotion – largely because of the final reckoning that Charlie and Ellie have before Charlie succumbs to his poor health. Although it seems like Ellie will rush out the door before she and her father can have one last moment together, she stops and fulfills Charlie's request to hear her read her essay. This moment also leads to Charlie getting up to walk towards Ellie, something she requests he does earlier in the film. It's a climactic, full-circle moment bursting with emotion. 

There's something truly powerful about watching Charlie find the strength to get up and walk on his own in those final moments. However, this last act of strength doesn't mean that Charlie avoids death, as he's drawn up into a heavenly light. Darren Aronofsky ends the film on a fantastical vision of Charlie on the beach with Mary and Ellie. The choice to end the film on this flashback to a beloved memory likely signifies Charlie is at peace with how he left things and acts as a harmonious and fulfilling ending to his journey. Although Charlie and Ellie's relationship has been complicated, it's legitimately compelling to watch them come together in this final moment. 

Is this the start of Brendan Fraser's comeback?

Although Brendan Fraser was once a notable mainstream star leading franchises like "The Mummy," it's no secret that his career has taken a downturn as he's dealt with personal issues and opened up more about being sexually assaulted . Recently, Fraser has started to work more in front of the camera again with his role as Cliff Steele/Robotman in "Doom Patrol" and appearances in films such as "No Sudden Move" and "Line of Descent." He was even set to appear in DC's now-canceled "Batgirl" movie as the villain Firefly. With all the acclaim he's receiving for his performance in "The Whale," does this role signal a true comeback for Fraser? Absolutely.

Fraser is set to be one of this year's top awards contenders and has already received a best actor nomination at the upcoming Golden Globes with many more likely to come. Ever since he got some big social media buzz for the lengthy standing ovation he received at "The Whale's" premiere at the Venice Film Festival, it seems that audiences have rallied around him. Fraser's performance in "The Whale" and the acclaim he continues to receive for it could easily lead up to a strong resurgence for the actor that fans would be thrilled to see. Who knows? Maybe "The Mummy" franchise could return with him.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

ellie's essay the whale meaning

The Whale movie explained: Charlie, the ending & meaning

ellie's essay the whale meaning

The Whale explained: Charlie, the ending and the movie meaning

There is no lesson we can learn; even religion cannot help. We cannot explain Charlie, Ellie, or Alan’s destiny with the Bible. Every life can become hell, partly because of our own mistakes, but the consequences are often worse than what we deserve. Charlie didn’t deserve a life where everything would point at him as a total failure. Ellie didn’t deserve to grow up as a woman dominated by her own hate. With both of them, life has been more challenging than deserved, and there is nothing they can do. Ultimately, The Whale leaves us with a sense of impotence and a precise meaning: we watched a compact series of broken individuals, and we only learned that blaming someone makes no sense.

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The Whale writer didn't know about the ending change from the play

"I had no idea until I saw the rough cut."

brendan fraser, the whale

In an interview with Digital Spy , the writer talked about the original ending and how the different ending was perfect for the film.

"The way the play ends is, Ellie has the last line of the essay: 'It made me feel glad for my…' And she's cut off by the stage direction – 'a sharp intake of breath'. 'Charlie looks up, and has a sharp intake of breath. End of play.' I actually didn't know about the beach scenes until I saw a rough cut. It was just kind of an incredible surprise," he said.

preview for The Whale | Official Trailer | (A24)

Related: The Whale ending explained

"I had no idea until I saw the rough cut, and I was so intensely moved by it. I was just like, 'Oh my God, that's perfect.' Because of the play, when there's that first flashback in the Mary scene, when you see him on the… Right? Is that the Mary scene?

"In the play, it's the one moment that I script as he’s giving that monologue about the Oregon coast that the sound of waves comes in. In the play, it’s heightened, and expands a little bit. I think Darren [Aronofsky, director] took that idea, and kind of ran with it, in this gorgeous way," he said.

The film’s star, Brendan Fraser, who scored a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal, recently opened up about how he wasn’t scared to take on the role.

brendan fraser, the whale

Related: Brendan Fraser on not being scared of The Whale role

"I didn't feel scared. I felt – I don't know – energised. I felt enthusiastic. I felt like: 'That's going to be a good challenge. That's new. I haven't seen that before.' I felt really inspired," he explained.

"I also felt like it was something I wanted to do so bad, I could feel it in my bones. And the feeling of also having had that many times before in my life – in my career – and seeing that ship sail enough times," he added.

The Whale is out now in UK cinemas.

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Shivani Dubey is a freelance writer covering entertainment, culture, social trends and lifestyle. She has been published in Vice, Vogue India, Refinery29, Mashable, i-D, Little White Lies, HuffPost and The Daily Beast among other titles. You can find her on Twitter .

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Freelance film & TV writer, Digital Spy Critic and writer Jo Berry has been writing about TV and movies since she began her career at Time Out aged 18. A regular on BBC Radio, Jo has written for titles including Empire, Maxim, Radio Times , OK! , The Guardian and Grazia , is the author of books including Chick Flicks and The Parents’ Guide to Kids’ Movies . 

She is also the editor of website Movies4Kids . In her career, Jo has interviewed well-known names including Beyonce, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Kiefer Sutherland, Tom Cruise and all the Avengers, spent many an hour crushed in the press areas of award show red carpets. Jo is also a self-proclaimed expert on Outlander and Brassic , and completely agrees that Die Hard is a Christmas movie .

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We'll help you find the meaning!

Meaning of the movie “The Whale” and ending explained

Meaning of the movie “The Whale” and ending explained

What is the movie about

Meaning of the movie keith, movie ending explanation.

Director and screenwriter Darren Aronofsky clearly enjoys traumatizing his audience with tragic works. His new film “The Whale” is probably one of the saddest of all his creations.

In general, the theme of this film taken as a basis is not new for Aronofsky, since he already in the most dramatic aspect touched upon the issues of disastrous addiction to addiction in the long-standing cult film work Requiem for a Dream.

This time, Darren takes the award-winning play of the same name and tries to create an emotionally poignant film. He seems to enjoy working with the negative sides of humanity more than the positive ones.

Undoubtedly, “The Whale” is extremely difficult to watch. Its main character is 200-kilogram Charlie, obese and swollen with fat, whose image and character in the most magnificent style was brilliantly embodied by Brendan Fraser, who returned from oblivion. With refined ease, he guides the audience through all the intricacies of the plot and the life transformations taking place with him, literally bearing the brunt of the scenario ideas.

As already mentioned, “The Whale” is about Charlie, who is morbidly and overweight. He leads a secluded life and hides his latent homosexuality. Teaching English online, the protagonist hides behind a dark monitor screen under the pretext of a broken webcam, so as not to be seen by his students. And there is also a close friend – a nurse named Lizzy, who sincerely cares about him.

At the beginning of the film, Charlie looks terribly upset, causing him to show clear signs of an impending heart attack. It was at this moment that a thin boy named Thomas appeared at the door of his house.

He does not know what to do, but Charlie asks to read him an essay, which immediately calms him. When Lizzie arrives, she realizes the man has congestive heart disease with terribly high blood pressure, but he refuses to go to the hospital because he doesn’t have insurance.

Then Lizzie tells Charlie that he will die in a week if he does nothing about it, but her words are just an empty phrase for him. The fat man became so indifferent to his own health after the loss of his secret lover Alan, who committed suicide after his father disowned him for his “sinful” love for Charlie and kicked them out of the church.

Further it turns out: Lizzie is Alan’s sister. After her brother’s suicide, she began to hate the Christian religion and everything connected with it. The situation gets even worse when it becomes known that Thomas is a missionary who actually came to Charlie to try to introduce him to God’s message. In addition, it turns out that Charlie has a daughter named Ellie from his ex-wife Mary. Finally realizing his unconventional orientation, he abandoned both without intelligible explanations.

Realizing that he is dying, Charlie tries one last time to reconnect with his daughter before handing her a huge amount of money, gaining confidence that she can take care of herself in a beautiful future.

Whatever the story behind The Whale, there is no easy way to tell the true meaning of this film. Charlie has five days to patch things up with his rebellious daughter, who resents him for leaving her when she was only eight years old. And all this because of the forbidden attraction to a representative of the same sex. Charlie had questioned her mother about her over the years, but she had never told him about the extent of her growing daughter’s rebelliousness or the fact that she had been kicked out of school. Everyone has had a difficult relationship with their parents during their teenage years, and it is this part of the story that makes it truly tragic. Both father and daughter internally both want to see each other in their lives, but it is Mary who does not want Charlie to be in Ellie’s life.

On the other hand, Lizzie is the only person who genuinely cares about Charlie, but this forces her to endure sometimes unbearable behavior. At his capricious demand, she is forced to bring him harmful and unhealthy fast food, and at a critical moment she does not find the courage to forcefully take him to the hospital, although she is well aware that soon everything will end in death.

In the end, Mary visits her ex-husband and confesses her true desire for their family reunion, but cannot bear the thought that he will call her a bad mother, because her daughter has become completely uncontrollable and angry at the whole world around her.

But Charlie feels that Ellie isn’t really evil. And he will try to do everything in the time allotted to him to see her perfect and amazing.

Toward the end of the film, it becomes clear that Thomas is not who he claims to be. In fact, he is a fugitive who used to be addicted to drugs and was later forced to work in prison so that he could recover.

In essence, Thomas is not a bad person, and his only goal is to help people. When he sees how the clergy define the essence of such “help” in their own way, the guy purposefully lights up with the idea to change everything.

He begins to wander from house to house and see what he can actually do for people. Unfortunately, his churchmen don’t like his ideas, so he flees to another state after stealing two thousand dollars from parish donations.

Ellie arrives and is the only person who can see through Thomas. She persuades Thomas to return home, she smokes some marijuana in front of him, advising him to take a dose. When he does, she takes pictures of him and records his revelations on her phone.

Ellie then sends the tape and photos to Thomas’ parents and the church where he stole the money, causing him to run away. Charlie’s thoughts lead to believe that Ellie’s intentions were positive and that she never meant to hurt Thomas, making her the perfect daughter in Charlie’s mind.

In turn, the ending also reveals Lizzy’s motives. For her, Charlie is a kind of replacement for her lost brother Alan. When she realizes that she too will lose him, just like she lost Alan, she cannot bear the thought of it.

She becomes brutally honest with Charlie about his condition. She doesn’t know that Charlie saved all the money from his teaching job into an account for Ellie. When she learns about this through Mary, she is devastated and cannot believe that Charlie would hide such information from her. When she was struggling to take care of him and told him to go to the hospital, the money could have been used. But he never mentioned it.

It is obvious that he is blind to Lizzie’s victims due to his love for Ellie. Before dying, Charlie asks the question: has she ever wondered if people are capable of not caring? He tells her that people are amazing, which she thinks is far from the truth. The truth is that Alan died because of the people who were supposed to take care of him. Her parents symbolically pushed him off the bridge where he died. After losing Charlie, Lizzie ends up all alone.

As the story progresses, Mary’s ex-wife comes back into Charlie’s life because of Ellie. Arriving at his house, she can’t believe the state Charlie is in after all these years. She never knew he was doing this to himself, otherwise she would have told him to use the money much sooner.

Charlie tells her about old memories together, and it is clear that Mary still loves him dearly. In an emotional outburst, Mary yells at Charlie for abandoning them and tries to start a fire at the most inopportune moment when he is about to die. This gives a connection to Charlie’s positive thoughts about humanity.

In fact, Ellie is the reason Charlie is still alive. Alan became the love of his life, but he never stopped thinking about his daughter. It’s true that he was a little distant at first, and Ellie didn’t forgive him for that.

Most likely, the departure of her father was the reason that Ellie is now a real sociopath by nature. Charlie does offer her the money he’s saved up to get her to meet him, but it’s clear from the start that she’s just looking for excuses to spend more time with him.

Ellie loves her father and wants him in her life. “Charlie’s Light at the End of the Tunnel” is Ellie’s beautifully honest essay on the Moby Dick novel. She writes that the book’s many “boring chapters” about whales are a way for the author to “spare us our own sad story,” even if only for a little while. After that, it becomes clear to viewers that the Moby Dick reference is a metaphor for Charlie and Ellie’s relationship. Charlie is a whale and Ellie is Ahab who wants to see the “big animal” humble.

Ellie loves her father and wants to reconnect with him; she just doesn’t know how. She’s gone too far in being a rebel, and now it’s too late. At her first meeting with him ten years later, she tells him to get up and approach her without a walker. When he is unable to do so, and she runs out of the house.

Now, standing on the threshold of life and death, he asks her to read her essay to him. His favorite essay in the world, the most honest. As she reads this, he finally gets up and walks towards her on his two legs. When she finishes her essay, he ascends to heaven and the screen turns white.

The ending reveals that Charlie was destined to die precisely after he managed to enter his daughter’s heart again. Then Ellie becomes clear that he really cared about her and really believed that she was an amazing person. This message suggests that she can change forever. And, perhaps, will return to normal life after the death of his beloved father.

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Meaning of the movie “No One Will Save You” and ending explained

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Read The Whale 's moving script page that allowed Brendan Fraser to build the 'spine' of the film

See EW's exclusive screenplay excerpt from Samuel D. Hunter's new drama that features an emotional exchange between Fraser and Hong Chau.

ellie's essay the whale meaning

Brendan Fraser 's physical and emotional transformation into The Whale 's Charlie, a reclusive professor spending his final days patching up his relationship with his estranged daughter, has been hailed as one of the most moving performances of 2022. But to get there, he leaned intensely on the film's heart: writer Samuel D. Hunter's script , a self-adaptation of his 2012 stage play of the same name, loosely inspired by his real-life experience as a gay man struggling with identity and religion in small-town Idaho.

Below, Hunter exclusively breaks down his own words, offering insight into a key scene from director Darren Aronofsky's drama that sets the film's plot in motion, as Liz ( Hong Chau ) — Charlie's longtime friend and caregiver — attempts to dissuade him from burdening his mind (and body) with the stress of reconnecting with the daughter he abandoned eight years prior.

Friendly fire

Liz knows Charlie is dying, and her fierce protective instincts, Hunter says, are "demonstrating love for him" while he deals with "invasive forces" like Ellie ( Sadie Sink ), the daughter he abandoned, coming back into his life.

Inspired improv

Fraser played Charlie with such an "extraordinary amount of love" that Hunter wrote new dialogue on set, based on whatever emotions "Brendan was accessing [that day]."

Daddy issues

Hunter leans into the characters' "contradictions," from Liz harping on Charlie's health, yet providing food for him to binge on, to Charlie wanting to step up as a dad, but only at the end of his life.

Extra credit

Inspired by Hunter's teaching experience at Rutgers, Charlie shows love via instruction, helping a hardened Ellie express herself on paper. Hunter calls Charlie's offer "the spine of the entire film."

The Whale is now playing in limited theatrical release via A24, and opens nationwide on Dec. 21. Watch EW's full Awardist interview with Fraser above.

Check EW's The Awardist , featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best in movies.

Related content:

  • Brendan Fraser's emotional performance will move you to tears in new trailer for The Whale
  • Golden Globes nominate Brendan Fraser after The Whale star said he won't attend ceremony
  • Brendan Fraser praises Encino Man costar Ke Huy Quan for 'performance of his lifetime' in Everything Everywhere All at Once
  • Brendan Fraser tears up discussing his kids and The Whale : 'I have as much love as I'll ever need'
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