When I went to see this film someone said to me: “Ah? Are you going to see the next Aronofsky? This guy is funny. His cinema is really B series with means.
– So I’m not asking you to come with me I suppose…
– Oh well yes. I come… I like going to see Darren Aronofsky’s films… Even if I actually think they’re luxury B movies. »
This kind of paradox surrounding Darren Aronofsky is clearly not the first time that I have been confronted with it.
I’ve been hearing the worst about this author for years: a pretentious director who doesn’t have much to say; pompous filmmaker who overloads his works with layers of lame symbolism; impostor who thinks he has seen the light when it is always eclipsed by the immensity of his melon… And yet – once again – upon arriving in the room, there was hardly a seat free.
Surprising for someone who has maintained the imposture for almost thirty years now.
Why start there? Why start by saying that, you may wonder?
Well first of all to emphasize the fact that just because an author is annoying doesn’t mean he’s not an author; and it is not because a work exasperates that it says nothing and that it does not explore any avenues.
Because as far as I am concerned, I have known everything with my friend Darren. He introduced me to paradise with his The Fountain and even his Black Swan . He introduced me to hell with his apocalyptic Noah . And then in the middle of all that, he aroused in me ambivalent feelings to say the least with Pi , Mother ! or even The Wrestler.
That’s why I never miss a Darren Aronofsky film. I never know what I’m going to run into. I don’t know if I’m going to call it formalist genius or mystical deception.
But at least something is happening. And if I allow myself this long preamble, it is precisely because I felt a little bit of all that in this The Whale .
The Whale , for me, is really everything that Aronofsky’s cinema can be.
First images that recall the strength of a bold format, thoughtful photography and a deep sense of storytelling through images.
So much is said and asked from the start. Its subject is perfectly embodied as soon as it was named.
The whale. Largest mammal there is. It can have something slender and majestic when it moves in its element, but it quickly displays a repulsive and monstrous appearance as soon as it is stranded on dry sand.
In a quarter of an hour, this film said it all.
He said the cetacean was lost because it was guided by prophets of bad omens, promising the mammal greener algae outside its preferred environment.
But he also said all the birds of prey that circle around the decomposing animal; raptors who twist their noses in the face of the disgust that this incarnate agony arouses in them, but disgust which does not prevent them from remaining circling around their prey.
For as horrible as the beached whale may be, it nevertheless arouses the lust of everyone because of these thick layers of fat that it agglomerates around it. A quarter of an hour which says a lot… But the problem is that this film lasts more than a quarter of an hour…
With each quarter of an hour added – with each layer of intrigue developed – the fatty mass that this film accumulates heats as much as it suffocates.
On the one hand, the individuals who revolve around the beast form a horde and end up revealing an entire system of thought; or rather should we say a whole system of being : between the ambivalent nurse, the preacher in search of repentance and sacred reward, the abandoned girl or even the betrayed ex-wife, all these little people have their good reason to crowd around the stranded animal.
In fact, they are all also failed in their own way, and all more or more failed for the same reasons: an almost pathological incapacity to create a bond; to overcome one’s own wounds and one’s own ego.
But the problem is that on the other hand, it is also because of this inability to overcome his own narcissistic wounds and his own ego that Aronofsky participates in ensuring that each layer of added fat bloats the whale more. , to the point that she becomes a monster .
The more the film progresses, the more it becomes impossible not to see which whale it is actually about.
Again and again, Darren Aronofsky always ends up arriving at one and the same subject; the one he knows the most and who interests him the most: himself .
Who is this animal that we consider too heavy and disgusting but that we can’t help but feed anyway? Olala, but definitely, the metaphor is much too subtle for our little minds.
And the problem is that Aronofsky always feels so far above this fray which despises him that he addresses her in return with the same condescension. With each added layer of fat we are told *ad nauseam* which, from his point of view, we certainly missed. We verbalize excessively. We end up adding tears and music in case it wasn’t clear to everyone.
And the film dares to stretch for more than two hours when an hour and twenty minutes would have been more than enough. What a pachyderm this Darren.
This is a criticism that often comes up against him: stupidity. Emphasis. The to much …
But it’s true that that’s how my friend Darren’s cinema is. Aronofsky is not a filmmaker of balance, of measure, of just the right touch. Aronofsky can’t stop.
He always has to add more. He must always play on all the technical dimensions of his media to add significance, to add meaning, to add sensation. Aronofsky knows how to be otherwise than in excess. And that’s moreover that’s why I find him excellent when it comes to talking about the excess of carelessness, enjoyment and illusions of the poor people of Coney Island in Requiem.
This is why I find it eloquent when it comes to painting the hubris of a man who thought he could cheat death in The Fountain . This is why I find him flamboyant when it comes to evoking the perdition of a young dancer who gets lost in the excesses of her practice. None of these characters knows how to set limits. Everyone lets themselves be overcome by their excesses. This is where Aronofsky excels. This is its natural environment. Perdition in emphasis. The exploration of no limit.
Hence this strangeness in seeing him get lost in this walled chamber that is The Whale . But strangeness which is explained – which Darren himself explains – to the point that it becomes as much fascinating as it is repulsive.
The Whale is what we’ve been pushing Aronofsky towards from the start. Intimism that he doesn’t know how to do. Restraint that he doesn’t have. From the big picture that eludes him.
So as with The Wreatler , he tries. He goes where he is told to go. Out of the water… Even if it is a massive cetacean.
In his adaptation of an intimate and dull play, Aronofsky strives to show that he could do it and indeed, over the entire first quarter of an hour, he succeeds in doing it.
But only Aronofsky doesn’t know how to play unnaturally, and his whole film is just a sort of heartbreaking cry screaming his desire to be able to be what he is and do what he wants to do.
From this upset cinema gives birth to a shaky film, not knowing how to really benefit either from what he imposes as an exercise, nor from the emphasis which is just waiting to resurface at every moment. And where Black Swan had been able to find its momentum by successively alternating from one to the other, The Whale gets bogged down, not knowing which way to lean, ensuring that with each scene it sinks deeper, point of becoming deeply embarrassing .
Like a death rattle, the final scene achieves the incredible feat of having made one of my neighbors in the room cry out tears while managing to make another burst into laughter. And I was between the two, in every sense of the word.
With this step taken by the hero and filmed as if it were that of the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, how can we not laugh, frankly. And on the other, inspiration and momentum.
Suddenly this step becomes that of a man returning to the great waters. Certainly this is where the animal regularly suffered its wounds, but what value can these small wounds have next to this long artistic agony? It is better to be sincere than conformist.
The animal then takes off in an ocean of light and music, like a real snub to its detractors; as a way of saying “after all, fuck you”.
As the lights came back on, I found it very instructive to observe the faces that made up this packed room.
On one side there were the red eyes and wet cheeks and on the other the bloodshot eyes of those who had just been converted to whaling.
This film left no one indifferent. I myself felt assailed by conflicting feelings. The pleasure of having attended a film that is second to none. The obligation to recognize the touch of an author who had once again enriched and completed his work. And then on the other side the disappointment of having seen certain good moments drowned in Aronofskyian fat; or even the exasperation of realizing that once again, this author was being sucked into this whirlwind of which his navel was the center.
But on the other hand, that’s also what auteur cinema is all about . And in a way it doesn’t displease me.
Yes, Aronofsky annoys with his arrogance, but at least he has the audacity to propose.
Yes too, Aronofsky is heavy, fat and emphatic. But at least he manages to fill the plate.
And yes, finally, Aronofsky often talks about himself, but at least he tries to do so in a unique way.
So OK, we like it or we don’t like it but at least there is a real author’s approach there, and I am surprised that for some people this would almost constitute a problem.
In recent months we have praised James Cameron for an Avatar 2 which could have been signed by the Russo brothers or any other Yes men .
Just yesterday we were praising Steven Spielberg for The Fabelmans which frankly would not have made a mark on the filmography of Kenny Ortega or any other soldier of the Disney Empire.
At some point, I think we will have to question the world in which we want to live.
Do we want to live in a sanitized world where everything tends to look the same; perpetually recycling the old to make the new? Or do we want to see a world teeming with authors, even if it means that some of them sometimes splash us with their ego, their heaviness, and from time to time a little of their talent?
In any case, I chose my side.
This whale may have left me bitter and exasperated most of the time, but I nevertheless prefer to know it in the open sea, capable of moving me at any moment.
So let’s let good Darren swim in the waters he wants, and maybe one day cinema will be at the party again.