The Whale (2022) Ending Explained – What happens to Charlie?

[trigger warning – suicide]

The Whale Plot Synopsis

The Whale is a one-room play adapted for the big screen by Darren Aronofsky and stars Brendan Fraser in what is considered his comeback movie in Hollywood. The melodrama is a heartwrenching tale of Charlie, an English teacher who has let himself go and gotten morbidly obese after the passing of his partner.

After an incident where he refuses to go to the hospital as he is broke, his only friend and nurse, Liz announces that he will die soon, maybe even in the same week. Charlie must tie up all loose ends including reaching out to his estranged daughter who is not about to make things simple for him.

What is the Moby Dick essay?

When we first see Charlie, he gets some kind of attack while he is jerking off to porn. As he thinks he is dying, he tries to read an essay on Moby Dick but it falls to the ground. At that moment, a New Life missionary, Thomas comes knocking and Charlie begs him to read the essay for him. As Thomas reads it, Charlie calms down and says he wanted to hear it one last time as he thought he was dying. 

That night, Charlie recites the essay by heart which describes Moby Dick, the whale as a poor big animal. The essayist also feels for Ahab because he thinks his life will be better if he kills the whale, but it will never help him and Charlie relates to both characters. The writer also finds the chapters which spend pages describing the whale boring and as an English teacher, Charlie finds the honesty refreshing. It is later revealed that the essay was written by his daughter, Ellie.

Why does Ellie start hanging out with Charlie?

Ellie is the angry teen daughter of Charlie with his ex-wife Mary who makes her classmates cry, is sarcastic and is bad at school. They did not see each other after she turned 8 as Mary got full custody after Charlie had an extramarital affair. As he is told he is dying, Charlie reaches out to Ellie who shows up and is constantly rude to him. She is angry at him for leaving her and cheating on her mother and for never staying in touch. 

Charlie tries to reconcile in any which way possible and so offers to pay her $120,000 and help her with school in exchange that she should hang out with him. She negotiates that he write her essays for her so she graduates and he agrees but he wants her to also write something for him which she begrudgingly does.

Who is Alan and what happens to him?

Alan was Liz’s brother and was part of a New Life church that his father ran. Alan truly believed in the church and even went to South America to do missionary work. And while he was lonely and tired, he did not want to come back home as his father had arranged his marriage to a girl he did not know.

When Alan did come back, he came with a partner which angered his father who kicked him out of the church. With the church being his life, it got to him as Alan did not eat or sleep in his last few days. Finally, one day he was found dead in the river. While his father called it an accident, Liz and his partner felt that he had killed himself.

Turns out, the partner was none other than Charlie. Alan had been a student in the night school where Charlie taught. While he was an adult, Charlie knew that it was wrong but he was in a bad space when he was married to Mary. Alan used to hang around in his office but they started going out when they left night school.

Why does Ellie keep taking everyone’s photo?

When Ellie first starts visiting, she randomly takes photos of Charlie and Thomas in unflattering scenarios. After she threatens Thomas into smoking marijuana and takes his photo, he is upset and locks himself in Alan’s room. As he starts opening up to her, she secretly takes an audio recording of him.

She finds out that he is not from New Life because they stopped doing door-to-door and she asks him about it. He reveals that he was a missionary but in Waterloo. His father wanted him to leave when he found out he was a stoner. But Thomas left because he didn’t like how his church worked, simply handing out pamphlets. He wanted to truly help people and thought personal interactions would be better.

He started doing door-to-door preaching and when he told Jerry, the leader they got into an argument. In a fit of rage, he took the petty cash of $2,400 from the church and left. He says he wants to save at least one person and thought it could be Charlie. However, he’s almost out of money and he can’t go back because he will be disowned. Ellie then ends up tracking down Thomas’ parents and sends them the audio recording.

Meanwhile, her mother Mary shows Charlie the photos she takes, she puts them up on social media and adds insulting captions. She calls Ellie evil while Charlie just thinks she is honest. While Ellie doesn’t verbalise her motives behind it, she ends up intentionally or unintentionally helping Thomas.

The young missionary comes and tells Charlie about Ellie tracking down his parents. But the twist is that they forgive him, are not mad about him stealing the money and want him to come back home. While Charlie is dying, he has an epiphany and claims that Ellie was not trying to hurt Thomas but help him as people are inherently good.

What spurs Charlie’s breakdown?

Mary comes with Liz when she hears about Ellie hanging out with Charlie and is shocked to see his appearance. She ends up telling Liz about the $120k he had been saving for Ellie who is upset as she thought he was broke. Liz angrily tells him that they could have gotten him anything he needed for his health. She had even declined his money when her truck broke down as she thought he was broke and would walk through the snow to get him food. Without waiting to hear Charlie’s reasoning, she leaves. 

In the meantime, Ellie says she hates Charlie and leaves with the essay he wrote for her.

Mary and Charlie are left alone and as she drinks she explains that after she took full custody, she kept their daughter away because Ellie is awful and thought he would think Mary was a bad mother. Then she kept her away because she didn’t want Ellie to hurt Charlie. 

Charlie tells her he reached out because he is dying and she is angry. She tells him to go to the hospital and he says the money is for Ellie. He asks her to make sure Ellie grows up to be a good person but she leaves without promising it. Meanwhile, Dan the delivery guy who was always nice to Charlie, waits to see Charlie’s appearance at the next delivery by tricking him and is disgusted.

Charlie doesn’t think much of it but then he sees Ellie’s post about him being fat that Mary had left open on his laptop. He had commended her honesty and feels angry at those who are fake like Dan. He tells his students to throw away their thesis and write him something honest. He then finishes every food item in the house and pukes it out. 

At that moment, Thomas comes and tells Charlie the truth about himself. He says while he did something wrong, it brought him to Charlie and that he can save him as he pulls out Alan’s Bible that he had found in his room. He says that Alan didn’t live for the spirit but in the flesh aka committing homosexuality which is why he died.

After Charlie confirms that Thomas is being homophobic, he gets angry and starts recounting how they dated and made love and describes his body which disgusts Thomas who runs away.

Does Charlie die?

Charlie refuses to go to the hospital or make any changes to his lifestyle at the beginning of the film after his blood pressure shoots up and he has congestive heart failure. Liz then declares that Charlie will die soon. His wheezing starts getting worse and he has to breathe through an oxygen tank.

After his breakdown in which he binge eats and gets stressed, his condition worsens. When Liz visits him at the end of the week, his skin is pale and he continuously sweats. At that moment, Ellie barges in and is angry as she failed because of the essay that Charlie wrote for her.

He asks her to read it, and she realises that it is the essay on Moby Dick she had written back in 8th grade. Mary had sent it to him and he apologizes for leaving Ellie and describes her and the essay as amazing. She cries as she wants him to go to the hospital when he cries in pain. But he asks her to read the essay which she angrily does.

As she does, he starts to get up on his own and walks towards her. She reduces the gap between them and as she finishes the essay, he is lifted into the light. It cuts to the flashback at the beach with Ellie which was peaceful memory for Charlie hinting that it is the last memory he saw before he died.

Feel free to check out more of our movie reviews here!

9 thoughts on “The Whale (2022) Ending Explained – What happens to Charlie?”

  1. Hi @David, no Ellie does not kill Alan. It is hinted that he either died in an accident or committed suicide by drowning. But if you are talking about Thomas, the missionary, Ellie contacts his parents who forgive him and ask him to come home.

  2. Ellie is so scared by the dessertion of her father, she wants to get everything home. She sends Thomas’s recording to his parents, they forgive him and wants him home. She breaks the plate to feed the birds on the kitchen windowsill, because she wants the bird to go home. She is an unsurprisingly angry teenager, with a Dad who she thinks abandoned her and a Mum who thinks she is evil and I feel for her. She is a good person, but she is angry, hurt and confused too.
    A story overwhelming about love and loss, but mostly love.

  3. Hey, he sees the Bible that Alan got during his time in New Life. It seems to represent New Life which Charlie blames for Alan’s death; which is why when he looks at it his mood changes.

  4. I want to know what Charlie saw in the locked bedroom after he smelled something and looked towards the bookcase

  5. Do you mean Thomas the missionary? If Mary had said that, yeah it would totally make sense since she sees her daughter as ‘evil’. However, since Charlie is optimistic and always sees the best in people, he definitely sees it as Ellie helping Thomas go back to a forgiving and loving home. And since Mary had gone on and on about how Ellie is horrible for posting mean things about people online, Charlie thinks she is wrong about Ellie’s motives. He thinks Ellie is honest and that people including her have an innate need to help and be kind. This is why he gives that little speech about her and Thomas in the end.

  6. I didn’t get why Charlie talked about Ellie sending Allen “home”. It almost sounded like he was saying she did something fatal to him.

Leave a comment