A Cruel Spectacle? (No. It’s more like “The Addiction Hour”).

Abbe Buck Hann
7 min readJul 3, 2023

After several months, watching a an Oscar campaign orchestrated well by a hot little studio A-24 and a smart management/PR team it has been a pleasure watching the major comeback of an actor who inhabited a character so deeply he turned The Method inside out. This Whale is not a Cruel Spectacle. Please don’t hate this Elephant in this Room.

I adore #RoxaneGay. As a matter of fact I follow her on #Medium and Facebook. She may be following me here on Medium. RG liked an essay I wrote on “The Bitchy Cripple” on Medium. I was on the moon! She is the sizzle and the steak when it comes to the form. Not me. I’m a good facilitator and a keen autodidact, but I’m not the one who can convey what they feel needs to be said very succinctly. It is an art form.

I have spent a month or so writing about Brendan Frasier’s Charlie in “The Whale”. It is still a happy distraction, along with my bitching in tandem about my own COVID rebounds Having Lymphedema, Asthma, multiple surgeries, MRSA twice, “Rebound” is no a picnic. And neither was seeing “The Whale”. I was watching a man reading his own ‘last will and testament’ — after committing suicide with food — for years! But it touched me. I spent years being fat, swollen and at times feeling suicidal over my weight. I can get angry as hell about it. Or accept it. I agree with the great Voltaire, “I may disagree with you, but you have the right to say it.” And, Oh yes, what about the opinion Roxanne Gay wrote in #NYT about #TheWhale being a Cruel Spectacle? Here is her piece:

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/10/opinion/the-whale-film.html

And I get every word Ms. Gay is saying. She is discerning about obesity but points out that a picture like this did not have to be made. And like Voltaire said, is her right to her opine.

I was The Whale, too, but in a different way. Anyone who knows me knows I am fat, and knows that I weighed 410 pounds in 2018, after being diagnosed with #lymphedema. I have since lost over 100 pounds in liquid having occupational therapy treatment and wearing compression garments to stave off water/fluid build up.

I mentioned a woman named Sara previously on my @thebitchycripple blog on FB. This is @sarahthefatcouchcritic on Twitter. She came out with another YouTube video back in April. She seemed to stop trashing “The Whale”, but not the Obesity Action Coalition (#OAC). This is the support group whom Fraser reached out to to meet their members before filming “The Whale” began. He wanted to know what it was like to be obese day after day? I am a member of the #OAC. My endocrinologist thought it would be a good idea as I was in Lymphedema groups and this one had people going through many trials of their own. Sarah the Fat Couch Critic labeled the #OAC a shill group for bariatric surgeons and Big Pharma for weight loss…but never acknowledging once that obesity is a disease like epilepsy or diabetes. One should not take the brunt of the blame or guilt but attempt to find out why…? If they choose (I did.) Her opinions here are are as intriguing as Ms. Gay’s are. This is one angry big girl! LWATCH: https://youtu.be/i5KgABbKZ7M

In the eyes of many heavy and thinner people, the film’s huge protagonist Charlie is The Whale. He weighs 600 pounds and is confined to his apartment. The references in the picture to Herman Melville go right out the window. To them, Charlie let himself go, way too far. Why did people, Fat or Thin, feel empathy for Charlie? Because of the depth of his depression. We were watching a man who was killing himself. Food was his drug of choice. And by the time we were ‘on the scene’ watching the picture, Charlie had five days left and wanted to put his affairs in order. This meant seeing the teenage daughter he abandoned as a child…

The screenplay was fictional, based on the play by Samuel Hunter, who adapted his play for the screen. Hunter who is gay, was once a binge eater and had a history of obesity when he was in his teens. It was how he dealt with being shunned for his sexual orientation. To tell precisely howsuch a story happens to be how art is formed. Now, instead of my taking the time to talk about @sarathefatcouchcritic, who is a blogger with a following who resented everything about “The Whale”, I can see she is in good company with Roxane Gay, who sees as an almost identical distortion in the presentation of Charlie.

Roxane Gay used the term “Cruel Spectacle” to describe “The Whale” in The New York Times. It was not inasmuch the portrayal of Brendan Fraser, whom I lately discovered giving a performance of a lifetime. The description #roxanegay gave in her review is perhaps the best way anyone can seriously view the directorial work of Darren Aronofsky. From the first minute onward, I always thought that Aronofsky had a warped sense of the human condition. Jennifer Lawrence almost lost a career over “Mother!” The “Black Swan” made Moira Shearer’s “The Red Shoes” look like a true fairy tale. Just Getting into Natalie Portman’s mind was an act of viciousness for any moviegoer.

The worst picture he ever made, and the most lauded by critics in my memory until “The Whale” was the 2000 “Requiem for a Dream”. Ellen Burstyn starred in it as Sara Goldfarb, a 70 year old Long Island widow who had gained weight. Sara. decided that she wanted to lose weight. She felt the best way was for her would be would taking diet pills all during the day in order to fit into her sleek red dress she had in her in her closet. [Then she could go on a nationwide game show and become famous!] I knew the ending would be a nightmare for me, so I stopped there about wanting to know about this picture, and decided that director Darren Aronofsky exploited the human condition. Period.

I already knew the ending.

For several years, my late father urged me to see this movie. He’d write me letters on his company stationary at “Z-Frank” Cars on Western Avenue in Chicago or even on a “Mud Bug” Off-Track Betting Form, writing, “My Abbela, See “Requiem for a Dream”. This story is about your mother.”

Ellen Burstyn was excellent in the movie, which depicted a story very much like my Mother’s where both went way too far. Both could no longer eat to live. They didn’t live to eat, but they could not get the things they wanted being heavy. And so, food meant nothing. It was three pills a day to start. Then More…They both sought fleeting fame and a mass love that they thought their thinner counterparts had for keeps. And that isn’t true.

My mother died when she was 38 years old. She was in a coma for a week from Hepatitis C and yellow from jaundice. This was from a bad blood transfusion resulting from an overdose of pills. Speed. Yellowjackets. I was her oldest daughter, sixteen years old when we lost her on August 19, 1972. I was so crushed when I had the opportunity to keep up with my studies at Chicago’s Metro High School and possibly get to study at the Goodman Theater or Northwestern, but I failed miserably. My brother and I started to either get drunk or get high. My brother became an addict and paranoid schizophrenic. He died eleven years ago. Me, I put down the vodka shots and took a bus out of town to the East Coast. I did not look back for a long time.

I haven’t seen “Requiem for. Dream” yet. I’ve read about it. I’ve seen the trailers. I can hear Ellen Burstyn’s character screaming in my dreams. I know all about it. Just like a lot of us know about Charlie. And many are quick to be critical, but we know him very well. Many of us know Addiction.

(Deep down, I want to punch Darren Aronofsky, too, whenever I think of Ellen Burstyn and Phoebe Kohn Miller, my Mother. It shouldn’t have been her classmate leaving Chicago’s West Side in 1953. My mother said, “it should have been me.” Fate chose Marilyn Pauline Novak. Phoebe and Marilyn went through high school together. They both became models. Marilyn was chosen more, and my Mother modeled for her cousins, The Starr Brothers Luxury Furs and Gowns. Later, when she started making pictures, Columbia Pictures Head Harry Cohn called her “That Fat Polack.” The newly christened “Kim” Novak weighed 122 pounds and was 5’7. When Kim’s career finally sputtered out it’s last film scene, my mother was already buried in Palatine, Illinois, alone.

I’m glad Kim Novak survived. Now close to 90, she lives far from Hollywood, but visits via Turner Classic Movies and some brand new fans. She didn’t only survive, she is thriving.

Just like Brendan Fraser.

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Abbe Buck Hann

My profile: I am Jewish. All Ashkenazi Jews were inbreds until 1902. This is why we have the scoliosis gene. I have it. And my son has it. More suffering.