Stories have an impact. They contribute to perception. And how this film deals with fitness is egregious : exploitative and, at times, cruel.

''The Whale,'' Darren Aronofsky's latest film, is one you hope, desperately, will be seen by an audience that has the necessary cultural literacy, the empathy, to watch the story and recognize that the on-screen portrayal of fatness and bears little resemblance to the livid experiences of fat people.

It is a gratuitous, self-aggrandizing fiction at best.

The film should ask us to see Charlie, the protagonist played by Brendan Fraser, as a person, to understand his grief and mourn with him, to hope for him to pull his life together. But that's not how the movie was filmed.

Most audiences will see the spectacle of a 600 -pound man unwilling to care for himself, grieving the loss of his partner who died by suicide, eager to die himself, and using the food as the means to that end.

The disdain the filmmaker seems to have for their protagonist is constant, inescapable. Its infuriating  -to have all this on-screen talent and all these award- winning creators behind the camera , working to make an inhuman film about a very human being. What, exactly, is the point of that?

For most of its two-hour run time, '' The Whale ''is emotionally devastating. Charlie's grief and inability to find the will to live is utterly crushing.  

The material circumstances of his life - teaching writing online, always hiding from his students by keeping his camera off, enduring the understandable fury of his teenage daughter who simply want to know why he abandoned her.

Shirking the concern of his best friend, who has already lost one beloved brother and can bear to lose her last connection to him - is overwhelming and relentless, manipulative and pitiable. I suppose that's the point of this particular adaptation from Sam Hunter's play of the same name.

Members of the small cast acquit themselves well enough with the material they're given.

Mr. Fraser brings pathos to this role, though I wish he was given better material, more worthy of his talent. His performance makes him a strong contender for all the major awards, and that's a shame, not because he doesn't deserve them, but because what's also being rewarded is such a demeaning portrayal of a fat man.

Hollywood loves to reward actors who dare to take on roles that require them to abandon the good looks that enabled their careers.

I cried during most of the film, and I heard others crying too, though I suspect we were all crying for different reasons. It was painful to bear witness to Charlie's demise, to how he was portrayed, to how utterly careless the writing and direction were.

It was crystal clear that Mr. Hunter and Mr. Aronofsky considered fatness to be the ultimate human failure, something despicable, to be avoided at all costs.

In a Q. and A. after the screening, the director, Mr. Aronofsky, said proudly that Charlie's story was told with empathy. He seemed to think he was being sincere, but I was bewildered because an empathetic portrayal isn't at all what was conveyed onscreen.

As I looked around the audience, I was struck by the fact that there were only four or so fat people in the audience and none on the stage.

''The Whale'' exemplifies the blurry line between creative license and cultural harm. Creators are free to tell the stories they want, in the ways they want. But there are consequences. A movie like this will only reinforce the dehumanizing ways in which many people understand fatness.

In most circumstances, eliciting such a visceral reaction to a movie would be a sign of good filmmaking. Productive things can happen in spaces of profound discomfort. But there is a difference between discomfort and devastation.

 '' The Whale '' in the end, isn't the serious film it so desperately wants to be. It's a carnival sideshow. Come look at the freak, the movie beckons.

The World Students Society thanks author Roxane Gay, the Gloria Steinem endowed chair at Rutgers University and the author of the forthcoming ''Opinion.''


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