‘The Whale’ ending defined by the play’s author, actors, administrators

The following comprises spoilers from the film “The Whale,” now taking part in in theaters.

The film model of “The Whale” ends with a breath, a brilliant mild and a seashore. The final visible exhibits the solar shining, the tide rising and falling, and a youthful, slimmer model of the title character, Charlie, staring out into the ocean as his daughter performs within the sand behind him.

If the serene seaside scene confused you, you’re not alone: That last flashback was a shock to playwright and screenwriter Samuel D. Hunter, as director Darren Aronofsky tacked it on with out discussing it with him. However the ending’s total impact echoes the ultimate second of its supply materials, which actors and administrators who’ve staged the favored play contemplate to be a launch that, when carried out, feels communal and usually satisfying for the viewers within 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,” mentioned Davis McCallum, who directed an 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.”

Each the play and the film “The Whale” heart on Charlie (Brendan Fraser), a reclusive, morbidly overweight teacher of on-line writing lessons who has been consuming himself to dying for the reason that passing of his lover, a casualty of non secular homophobia.

Brendan Fraser stars within the movie adaptation of “The Whale.”

(Zoey Kang / A24)

The character is an amalgamation of Hunter’s previous lives: as a closeted homosexual child attending a fundamentalist Christian college in rural Idaho, a depressed grownup who silently self-medicated with meals, and an expository writing teacher for school freshmen (the piece’s heartbreakingly trustworthy line “I think I need to accept that my life isn’t going to be very exciting” is an precise submission from certainly one of Hunter’s college students).

All through “The Whale,” Charlie is visited by his estranged and troubled daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink), and his annoyed ex-wife, Mary (Samantha Morton), each of whom Charlie deserted when he ended his marriage and got here out as homosexual; Liz (Hong Chau), a conflicted caregiver who can also be the sibling of Charlie’s late lover; and Thomas (Ty Simpkins), a fundamentalist missionary who is way from dwelling. Hunter doesn’t shrink back from any of the problems the characters are coping with “but doesn’t bury you in [them] either,” mentioned 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 considerations are just like these in Hunter’s different performs, which deal with topics “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 Instances critic Charles McNulty when Hunter obtained 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.

Adam Magill, left, and Nicholas Pelczar in “The Whale” on the Bay Space’s Marin Theatre Firm in 2014.

(Kevin Berne / Marin Theatre Firm)

All through the intimate stay piece — which is staged with out the escape of an intermission — all 5 characters reveal truths to one another and the viewers that increase 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,” mentioned Joanie Schultz, who directed a 2013 manufacturing at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater. “So when some of them finally do, it’s gorgeous and almost magical.”

Quite a few stagings of “The Whale” intensify the pressure-cooker impact by designing Charlie’s front room, the place the whole lot of the play unfolds, with an additional sense of claustrophobia or isolation. For instance, the 2014 Bay Space run raised the Marin Theatre Firm stage by 4 toes and angled Charlie’s ceiling in order that, from the viewers’s perspective, the character appeared to “dominate the space in a way that intimidated the people who visited him,” mentioned director Jasson Minadakis.

Likewise, the off-Broadway model strategically lit the house “so that it felt as if his room were hovering in this dark void,” mentioned 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,” mentioned director Schultz.

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

Jennifer Christopher as Ellie and Matthew Arkin as Charlie in “The Whale” at Costa Mesa’s South Coast Repertory in 2013.

(Scott Brinegar / South Coast Repertory)

Inside these confined areas, the actors who performed Charlie — every carrying physique fits weighing anyplace from 30 to 100 kilos — charted his arc bodily and emotionally. As he makes an attempt to nudge daughter Ellie towards a spot of genuine self-expression, he too reveals himself to his college students. The intention is that, by the point Charlie shares that he’s giving his life financial savings to Ellie, and endures nice ache to face up and stroll towards her as she reads her “Moby Dick” essay aloud to him, the viewers would really feel the overwhelming achievement Charlie will get throughout his last breath within the play.

“Every night, it was a journey, and it wasn’t easy to watch or to perform,” recalled Tom Alan Robbins, who starred within 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,” mentioned Matthew Arkin, who performed 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 or not Charlie dies on the finish of “The Whale” is up for debate. As written in Hunter’s script, the stage instructions of that breath merely learn, “A sharp intake of breath. The lights snap to black.” Many theater makers say that breath might very properly be his final inhale, after which he’s lastly free of the pains of his physique, 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,” mentioned Hal Brooks, who directed the Denver premiere.

It additionally may very well be thought-about in a metaphorical method, mimicking “how whales immerse themselves for so long underwater and then they finally come up to the surface,” mentioned Schultz, or “a deep intake of breath before diving in somewhere they’ve never gone before,” mentioned Shuler Hensley, who performed Charlie within the New York run in addition to 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.

Reyna de Courcy and Shuler Hensley play daughter and father in “The Whale” at New York’s Playwrights Horizons in 2012.

(Joan Marcus / Playwrights Horizons)

When requested in regards to the ending, Hunter didn’t make clear Charlie’s standing as a result of, he mentioned, it’s not essentially related. “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 defined. “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.”

Although Hunter didn’t write the seashore scene that follows Charlie’s onscreen ascension, he referred to as it “marvelous” and shared an interpretation of what it’d imply: “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.”