Identifying with Thomas the Evangelical
Charlie (Brendan Fraser) never leaves his apartment, everyone comes to him. Initially, I thought it was set during the Covid era as Charlie spends his time teaching an online course. A quick check reveals that Hunter wrote the play in 2012.
Charlie never leaves his apartment because he is so obese. His eating disorder was a reaction to the suicide of his partner. It is his partner’s Alan sister Liz (Hong Chau) who keeps an eye on Charlie.
The character I connected with most was Thomas (Ty Simpkins). Thomas a Christian is knocking on doors and sharing his faith when he comes upon Charlie just as he is convulsing due to his health. Thomas reads the beginning of an essay written by Charlie's daughter (when she was then eight) which has a calming effect on Charlie.
This is the beginning of an acquaintance between Thomas and Charlie. Thomas needs to spread the message of Jesus, Charlie needs someone to help him.
Although my immediate family were not evangelicals we were part of a Protestant community in which it was accepted, almost as a rite of passage, that before you died you would make your peace with God. The Evangelicals were the reminders.
I am grateful to the Evangelicals (usually referred to in my community as Born Again Christians) as they provided free activities for me as I grew up through Sunday School, Boys’ Brigade (BB), and Children's Meetings.
I was so influenced by their message that I became one aged 9 while attending Salvation Army Sunday School. I remained one until about the age of 12 when adolescence launched me into an adult world. I returned to it at age 17 and for a number of years ‘knocked on doors’ like Thomas though more often stood on the street handing out leaflets.
It was through handing out leaflets in Galway that I became friends with students and even secured a room. I could see myself in Thomas who after the initial conversation about God had to decide whether there was more to the connection when the other said “That’s interesting but not for me.”
Where there was a connection I maintained it and it was probably an influence into social work in that I realised people still needed help or friendship even if they didn't recognise their need for God or my particular version of God.
The Whale tells the story of how Charlie’s partner was disowned by his Christian family when they fell in love all challenging Thomas and his commitment to Charlie. Liz, Charlie's friend, also happens to be the sister of Charlie’s now-deceased partner.
The other significant relationship to Charlie is his daughter Ellie ( Sadie Sink) now 17 who is struggling in life and attributes it to him leaving her and her mum aged 8.
Thomas develops something of a relationship with Ellie as they find common ground in their struggles with their families. Ellie probes Thomas who reveals himself beyond his beliefs. Ellie inadvertently leads to Thomas finding his own peace which in turn gives Charlie peace about Ellie.
The film ends with the power of words, not the Biblical kind, to make the impossible possible.
I also sense Brendan Fraser also found his own ‘born again’ experience as an actor in this film.
I left thinking I should offer my services as a consultant on how to portray an ‘Evangelical’ as I am not sure I have seen a film or drama yet where they don't come across as ‘brainwashed’
PS key quote from the film
These assignments don’t matter. This course doesn’t matter. College doesn’t matter. The amazing, honest things that you wrote, they matter.
Charlie to his online students