‘The Whale’ ending explained: what happened to Charlie?

Brendan Fraser has swept awards season with his critically acclaimed performance in The Whale, which has a particularly emotional climax.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, the film follows morbidly obese literature teacher Charlie (Fraser) as he attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink), who is torn up after Charlie left her and her mother to start a relationship with a man years earlier.

Alongside Fraser and Sink, the film stars Hong Chau as Charlie’s best friend and nurse Liz, Ty Simpkins as Christian missionary Thomas and Samantha Morton as Ellie’s mother Mary.

What happens at the end of The Whale?

As Charlie nears death in his home, Ellie confronts him after receiving a low grade for an essay he’d rewritten. Charlie explains that he replaced her rewritten essay with the Moby Dick essay Ellie had previously written when she was in eighth grade – deeming it the most honest piece of writing he’d ever read.

Charlie asks Ellie to read the Moby Dick essay to him one last time. She initially refuses and goes to leave, but stops at the door in tears and proceeds to read it. As she reads, Charlie stands up and attempts to walk towards her, which he had failed to do when Ellie first visited.

As Ellie completes the reading, Charlie starts to ascend to the heavens as he looks up towards a white light in the sky.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Fraser gave his interpretation on the ending. “It’s important because it’s a Herculean effort that he makes to even get to his feet. For him to finally break through to her, humble himself before her, and let her know that he made a mistake and is sorry for it.

“While his life has not physically ended in that moment, I think that he knows he doesn’t need to live any longer, which is why he takes off his breather, he’s got her reading the essay, and he does take to his feet like three Olympic dead-lifters, takes his baby steps to his baby, and in that beautiful two-shot, a great white light appears, and they look skyward. Depending on your belief system, spiritually or otherwise, we see that Charlie – with a touch of magic realism – finally does fly.”

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