Brendan Fraser's performance in Darren Aronofsky's new film The Whale has seen him win all kinds of accolades – gaining nominations at just about every major awards ceremony, including the top prize at the Critics Choice Awards.


The film sees the former The Mummy star take on the role of Charlie, an obese and reclusive English teacher searching for redemption as he attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter Ellie, played by Stranger Things star Sadie Sink.

It is adapted from a 2012 play of the same name by prolific playwright Samuel D Hunter, but some viewers may find themselves wondering if that script has its roots in real life – read on for everything you need to know.

Is The Whale based on a true story?

No – the film is not based on a true story and is almost completely a work of fiction, even if writer Samuel D Hunter has said that certain aspects of the plot are semi-autobiographical.

The writer explained that just like the central character in the film, he had often taken comfort in Herman Melville's classic novel Moby-Dick while certain aspects of the character are taken from his own experiences as a gay man who was brought up attending a fundamentalist church school in the American Midwest.

"A lot of my plays starting with The Whale have a personal connection, I treated it as auto-fiction," Hunter explained during a recent interview with Creative Screenwriting. "I never had the pull to write something that was truly autobiographical.

"I took these lived-in experiences and breathed them into a real work of fiction. It put something on the line for me emotionally. It took me to a more vulnerable place. But I kept a safe distance.”

Hunter's play opened Off-Broaday in 2012 and went on to win a Lucille Lortel Award for Best Play the following year, with Aronofsky immediately keen to adapt it for the screen once he had seen it.

And although there were a couple of minor changes made for the adaptation –inlcuding the cutting of some dialogue – the film largely stayed faithful to the original play, as Hunter himself explained in an exclusive interview with

"Conceiving this story as a film was a drastically new idea to me, and a really exciting one," he said. "But I also knew it would be challenging, because very early on the more that I ideated about what it would be to open up the play in a traditional way – adding locations, adding characters, adding flashbacks et cetera – I was just like, 'This is not that story, this story doesn't want that.'

"I actually feel like some of my other plays probably could be opened up if you wanted to make them into films. But this one, really you just want to live with this person. That's the experience of this play, [it's] just living with this person. And I'm just so grateful [for] Darren, who is such a visionary filmmaker. There are very few people who could make the film the way that he made it and have it still have this cinematic language."

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Hunter added: "There were a lot of discussions over the years with Darren about what are the ways in which we can find a visual vocabulary to tell the story? And so a lot of the dialogue has been cut from the original play, and translated to the visual language."

The Whale is released in UK cinemas on Friday 3rd February 2023. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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