The Whale movie explained: Charlie, the ending & meaning

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The Whale is one of those movies that want to make you feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t try to stage a safe, comforting experience. It didn’t want to entertain the spectator. What the movie tries to do is present an authentic story of pain, exploring feelings, motives, and events that can turn a life upside down. Spectators were obviously puzzled: what is the meaning of the ending? Does Charlie die? And what’s the message the film wants to convey? In this article, everything about the core of The Whale will be explained.

You can watch the official trailer for The Whale here on Youtube.

The Whale explained: Charlie, the ending and the movie meaning

Two main characters constitute the blood and flesh of the movie: Charlie and his daughter Ellie. The stories of their lives explained the message of The Whale, culminating in the ending. Charlie is a professor, and he was married to Mary. When their daughter Ellie was eight years old, Charlie fell in love with Alan, one of his students. He decides to abandon his family and live with Alan. Mary will hate him for this and forbid him to get close to her and her daughter. Years later, Alan struggles to manage his life; his family refuses him for his choices. His guilt destroys him, leading him to commit suicide. Charlie will therefore find himself alone, reasoning about the mistakes he made in his life. He will begin a self-punishing descent into obesity that will ruin his life.

At the ending of The Whale, Charlie dies in front of his daughter Ellie, and the image of his feet levitating explained it with a beautiful metaphor. Charlie says it clearly for the whole movie: he doesn’t want to be saved. Listening to his story, we can try to understand how he feels: he had a wife and a daughter. He fell in love with Alan, and that destroyed his family’s lives. He cannot see his beloved daughter. Charlie did all this out of love for Alan, but after his boyfriend commits suicide, he has nothing left. The feeling is that he didn’t do a single good thing in his life: that’s why Charlie feels no purpose; there is no reason to improve his life. By eating junk food with no limits, he’s destroying himself, a self-punishment that he sees as unavoidable. He doesn’t even try to restore the relationship with his daughter because he knows nobody in this world would want him in their lives. Therefore, he will just die soon. And his money will go to his daughter, feeling it will be the only good thing he will do in life.

Ellie is a young woman who grew up with a mother with drinking problems and a father who abandoned her. She hates everyone; she’s drowning in anger and hate, and that’s just a normal consequence of a life without love. She doesn’t know the language of love: her parents acted like they didn’t love her, at least in her eyes. Her mother thinks she’s evil; her father believes she’s perfect. The truth is in the middle: “Evil” is not the trait of people born to hurt others, but the way we experience individuals who feel the urge to fight the world like their worst enemy. They attack everything they face because they are hurt. Defense is the only dynamic that drives them, and since they can be hurt by anything, every single presence in their lives becomes a threat. They are constantly at war: that’s why they destroy everything that crosses their way.

We can safely say that Ellie is not perfect, but we support Charlie in trying to understand her. Ellie’s behavior is a constant cry for help: she scratches everyone who gets closer because she desperately needs love. She is overwhelmed by her feelings, and she needs a guide. Basically, she needs the parents she never had. That’s why Charlie triggers her hate so much: he represents the reason why everything went south in her life. She always needed a loving father, and having it with so many years of delay is unbearable.

Identifying ourselves in Charlie, Ellie, and their stories, the meaning and the ending of The Whale are explained: Charlie knows he’s dying, and there is nothing he’s doing to prevent it. He feels terrible, and the only thing that can make him feel better is an old essay Ellie wrote when she was a child: while she reads it loud, Charlie finds the strength to do what Ellie asked him the first day, walking towards her. It’s the last effort his body is able to make: the second after, Charlie dies. 

There is no lesson we can learn; even religion cannot help. We cannot explain Charlie, Ellie, or Alan’s destiny with the Bible. Every life can become hell, partly because of our own mistakes, but the consequences are often worse than what we deserve. Charlie didn’t deserve a life where everything would point at him as a total failure. Ellie didn’t deserve to grow up as a woman dominated by her own hate. With both of them, life has been more challenging than deserved, and there is nothing they can do. Ultimately, The Whale leaves us with a sense of impotence and a precise meaning: we watched a compact series of broken individuals, and we only learned that blaming someone makes no sense.

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