What’s on at the movies?

Brendan Fraser’s ‘The Whale’ Challenges How Faith Relates to People in Pain

By: Laura Bennett

Against the backdrop of a culture fed up with “fat shaming” and one that pushes against the link between identity and body size, a story about a morbidly obese recluse could be a difficult sell.

Although, The Whale quickly proves it’s not making a spectacle of its lead’s size but using it as a metaphor for far greater issues of identity and value.

Based on the play by Samuel D. Hunter and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Limitless, Black Gold), The Whale stars Brendan Fraser (The Mummy, Crash) as Charlie, an English teacher who’s attempting to reconnect with his estranged daughter after leaving his family for a forbidden lover in the early years of his marriage.

There’s so much to glean from The Whale it’s hard to know where to focus.

From trauma bonds to quests for redemption and crises of faith each character is rich with their own backstory, offering another angle on how we arrive at the beliefs we do about God, good and evil and the importance of our one life.

Early on the movie a doorknocker named Thomas (Ty Simpkins) arrives at Charlie’s house to share the “the good news of Jesus”. Not knowing what lies behind the door, Thomas is confronted by Charlie’s physical state and ends up in a reoccurring exchange with him where he’s intent on helping Charlie “get well”. However, the relationship causes Thomas to confront his own religious bias and assumptions and the areas where he needs healing too.

Thomas realises Charlie has a history with the church that’s fed into his current state, and although he’d naively like to believe that simply knowing “Jesus loves him” would be enough for Charlie to “want saving” the complexity of Charlies situation won’t allow it.

Brendan Fraser’s performance is worthy of the praise it’s getting, but it’s the unflinching humanity brought to a broad excavation of human dilemmas that really makes The Whale shine.

It’s fair to think the Christian viewer would side with Thomas and his eternity-minded intentions, but you also find yourself gravitating towards the humble and endearing Charlie who graciously lets Thomas share his views – despite all the while having such personal and painful reasons for finding them hard to swallow.

There’s a spiritual depth in The Whale many viewers won’t be expecting that challenges how we relate Christian faith to the world and treat people we may believe are “lost”.

The Whale also shows us that people’s response to faith is inextricably linked to their history with the church and experience of religion. When you bring up God or say you’re “a Christian”, you’ll be on the receiving end of all they associate with those terms, whether it relates to your words and behaviour or not.

Brendan Fraser’s performance is worthy of the praise it’s getting – he’s been nominated for an Academy Award for Actor in a Leading Role for his performance – but it’s the unflinching humanity brought to a broad excavation of human dilemmas that really makes The Whale shine.

The Whale is for mature audiences – pressing on some uncomfortable and divisive themes – but does so in service of its characters and the audience meeting them.

The Whale is in cinemas now. Rated M

Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.

About the Author: Laura Bennett is a media professional, broadcaster and writer from Sydney, Australia.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

By: Reel Dialogue

After four phases of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now set to launch into Phase Five.

The film kicking off the proceedings is none other than Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the third film in the Ant-Man series, and the 31st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Audiences were first introduced to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) in Ant-Man, which served as Phase Two’s epilogue back in 2015. Despite his humble on-screen origins, this latest entry is a far more expansive, epic, and indeed manic adventure into new unknown worlds.

In the newest chapter, Scott Lang and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), together with Scott’s daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton), and Hope’s parents, Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfieffer), find themselves trapped in the Quantum Realm. They embark on an adventure that pushes them beyond what they thought was possible as the foursome battle against a mysterious and dangerous new threat, Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), and fight to protect the ones they love.

Whilst the Ant-Man franchise began with a heist film aesthetic, and small-stakes action. This latest instalment is more akin to the Guardians of the Galaxy or the latter Thor films. Gone is the grounded San Francisco-based setting, replaced with psychedelic quantum chaos, bright CGI colours, increasingly cheap comedy, and yet another exposition of what audiences can expect from the multiverse. It’s Ant-Man in Wonderland with all manner of crazy characters. From revolutionaries fighting against Kang, to the duplicitous Krylar (Bill Murray) to the MCU’s reimagining of comic villain MODOK (Corey Stoll) Unfortunately, these side characters are not given much to do but be comedic side fodder, in a film that already has a very comedic lead. Rudd’s comedic chops are given a great opportunity to shine. Still, it’s also exciting to see him given more dramatic moments, especially those focusing on his relationship with his teenage daughter Cassie. Kathryn Newton takes over the role here and is excellent at making Cassie sympathetic, even when she gets preachy and self-righteous.

The film’s other great strength, outside of the father-daughter relationship, is the big screen introduction to Kang the Conqueror. Having previously appeared as a version of Kang in Loki named He Who Remains, Majors is now allowed to let loose and introduce us to the next Thanos-level threat to the MCU. His gravitas, complexity, and sheer power are magnetic and prove why Kang is a villain worth building this next Marvel saga around. However, because this is his introduction, the film feels like chapter one in a larger story, meaning plot threads feel unresolved. Additionally, it’s a shame that Evangeline Lilly is given so little character development for a movie titled Ant-Man and the Wasp. The most interesting part of Hope is her ever-changing hairstyles. It feels like a missed opportunity to explore her family dynamic with her recently reunited parents, in contrast to Scott-Cassie. Yet, sadly only a little time is given to the Pym/van Dyne clan. Pfieffer does well to portray the PTSD of Janet, and Michael Douglas is delightfully dry, even if it does feel like he’s just sleepwalking through the film half the time.

Overall, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is an intriguing start to Phase Five. Part Alice in Wonderland, part Star Wars with rebellion, new worlds, and wacky characters, it’s a shame that this film gets a little bit too big for its own good and loses focus of the little things that made us first fall in love with Scott Lang and company.

Reel Dialogue: What does looking out for the little guy mean?

One of the most humorous recurring gags in the film is the new book that Scott has written called “Looking Out for the Little Guy.” It’s part autobiography, part self-help, and all tongue-in-cheek. But it raises an important question: What does it actually mean to look out for the little guy? Is it only the job of heroes to protect the weak? Is it only our job to help the poor and oppressed if it affects us too? Or should we always champion on behalf of the causes we know are just?

Scott’s daughter Cassie constantly pushes her father to be a big world-threat fighting superhero and take on the battles of those who cannot fight for themselves. The Bible teaches us that we are to look after one another, because all lives matter to God. We are to care for the poor, the needy, the afflicted, and the oppressed. The most remarkable example of this is Jesus. He cared for those who were outcasts. He ate with sinners. He championed against mistreatment. And showing mercy to those who were in need. Still, He did not just address their physical needs. He came for their spiritual need, the forgiveness of sin. Jesus is the ultimate hero because He cares not just for the little guys, but because He died for them. Have you accepted this rescue?

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is in Cinemas now. Rated M

Article supplied with thanks to City Bible Forum.

Michael Walsh is a Missions Engagement Minister in Sydney, and an avid film fan. His love of film is surpassed only by his love of God, and his desire to make the Gospel known.

All images: Supplied