Darren Aronofsky hasn’t directed a feature film since 2017’s mother!, an experimental horror movie starring Jennifer Lawrence that polarized audiences with its Biblical allegories and ambiguous ending, but he’s returning to the director’s chair for The Whale, an ambitious drama about a 600-pound recluse. Brendan Fraser has been cast to play the lead role in the project, which is being adapted from Samuel D. Hunter’s play of the same name.
Hunter’s off-Broadway play made its debut in 2012 and has since concluded its run on the stage. It was met with critical acclaim and a boatload of awards, including the Drama Desk Award, the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play, and a GLAAD Media Award. It also received nominations from the Drama League and the Outer Critics Circle. Fraser will play Charlie, a middle-aged man who left his family behind to start a new life with his homosexual lover. When his lover died, he began compulsively eating to cope with the grief, eventually ballooning to 600 lbs. The story of The Whale sees a reclusive, aging Charlie trying to reconnect with his 17-year-old daughter after all this time.
Aronofsky has tasked Hunter with adapting his own play into a script. The playwright told Deadline, “Adapting my play into a screenplay has been a real labor of love for me. This story is deeply personal and I’m very thankful it will have the chance to reach a wider audience.” A24, the independent studio behind such sleeper hits as Midsommar, Uncut Gems, and The Lighthouse, has worldwide distribution rights to The Whale and will produce the film in association with Aronofsky’s own production company Protozoa Pictures.
The role of a 600-pound recluse would be a challenge for any actor, and Fraser is certainly an outside-the-box casting choice. He’s been working steadily with TV roles in projects like Trust, The Affair, and Doom Patrol, but it’s been years since he was regularly taking on starring roles in big-budget Hollywood movies like The Mummy, George of the Jungle, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and the Best Picture winner Crash. If he pulls this off, he could see a career renaissance in the mold of Matthew McConaughey or Keanu Reeves.
Overeating is a subject that Aronofsky has dealt with before. In his acclaimed psychological drama Requiem for a Dream, of which Hunter is a confessed fan, the director drew parallels between Jared Leto’s character’s addiction to heroin and Ellen Burstyn’s character’s addiction to food. He’s also no stranger to stories about fathers reconnecting with their estranged daughters, having covered similar thematic ground with Mickey Rourke and Evan Rachel Wood in The Wrestler.