The Whale ending explained: what happens?

Brendan Fraser in The Whale
Brendan Fraser in The Whale (Image credit: A24)

NOTE: spoilers ahead for The Whale.

Audiences are now able to watch The Whale, the drama that is being billed as Brendan Fraser's career-defining performance. The movie sees Fraser play an English teacher named Charlie who is suffering from severe obesity and is told if his unhealthy ways go unchecked it could ultimately kill him. But before that can happen, Charlie is determined to reconnect with his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink).

Daren Aronofsky directed The Whale, which in addition to Fraser and Sink stars Hong Chau (The Menu), Ty Simpkins (Jurassic World) and Samantha Morton (The Serpent Queen). Check out What to Watch's thoughts on the movie in our The Whale review.

But if you've already seen The Whale and want to get some clarity on what happened in that ending, we've got you covered.

Does Charlie die in The Whale?

The Whale wastes little time in showing just how poorly Charlie is doing wealth-wise. In the opening moments, he becomes short of breath and nearly passes out. Thankfully, the young missionary Thomas (Simpkins) is there to help him, reading an essay on Moby Dick that manages to help Charlie gain his composure. 

When his friend and caretaker Liz (Chau) gets there, she tells him that his blood pressure is at a dangerous level and that if he does not go to the hospital he could die by the end of the week from heart failure. Despite this, Charlie is adamant that he will not go to the hospital, saying he can't afford it.

Instead, he attempts to reconnect with his daughter Ellie, who he left when she was just 8 years old when Charlie came out of the closet and began living with his new partner. She is understandably angry at him, but Charlie convinces her to stay saying that he will help her with her homework and pay her everything that he has, which is actually more than $100,000.

Sadie Sink in The Whale

Sadie Sink in The Whale (Image credit: A24)

They spend a few days getting to know each other, though Ellie rarely pulls back on her anger toward him and even gives him Ambien to knock him out. When Liz arrives and sees this (with Ellie's mom), she learns that Charlie convinced Ellie to spend time with him by offering the money. Liz is frustrated that Charlie did not choose to use this money for his medical expenses.

After everyone leaves, Charlie has his dinner delivered, left as usual on his porch by the regular delivery guy. When Charlie goes to retrieve it, the delivery guy sticks around to see Charlie for the first time and his look of shock drives Charlie into an eating binge.

The next day, Liz confirms that Charlie's time is almost up. Ellie storms in, upset that the essay Charlie gave her to turn in got an F. The reason why it did was because it was not on the subject Ellie was assigned, but the Moby Dick essay Charlie had Thomas read to him. It was an essay Ellie wrote when she was younger and that Charlie tells her is a good, honest piece of writing. He asks her to read it to him one last time now that he is dying, but she refuses and goes to leave. However, she stops at the door, tearful, and decides to read it.

As she does, Charlie struggles to his feet and, without any assistance, takes painful steps toward Ellie, doing what he wanted her and his students to do — be completely honest and reveal their true selves. As he reaches Ellie, he takes a final deep breath, looks up and everything fades to white as Charlie dies.

Is The Whale a true story? 

The Whale is not based on a true story. However, it is based on a play of the same name by Samuel D. Hunter. 

The play version of The Whale was first performed in 2012. It would go on to win numerous awards, including the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Play, a 2013 Drama Desk Special Award for Significant Contribution to Theaters, the 2013 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding New York Theater and more.

Hunter was brought on to write the adaptation of his play for the movie version of The Whale, which more or less follows the same format.

The Whale is now playing exclusively in movie theaters.

Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd (opens in new tab).