When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released its Oscar nominations on Tuesday, Brendan Fraser’s nomination for best actor came as no surprise. The actor has received widespread praise for his portrayal of Charlie, a morbidly obese man who’s essentially confined to his home, in “The Whale.”

Yet after seeing the film, Drake University English professor Beth Younger left the theater shaken. As someone who researches fatness in popular culture, she’s written about how overweight characters usually must lose weight in order to gain acceptance or to be loved.

But Charlie, she notes, “does not lose weight … he gets bigger and bigger, suffering a slow and painful physical breakdown.”

In “The Whale,” she sees parallels to a subgenre of horror called body horror, which depicts the destruction and degeneration of the human body. She wonders: What does a film that fixates on the horror of obesity say about our culture’s fear of fatness?

This week we also liked articles about the pope’s comments regarding LGBTQ people, California’s new climate plan and the role of standardized tests in the college admissions process.

Nick Lehr

Arts + Culture Editor

Over the course of ‘The Whale,’ Charlie’s body gradually breaks down. A24

‘The Whale’ is a horror film that taps into our fear of fatness

Beth Younger, Drake University

In a thin-obsessed culture, fatness has become its own kind of monster.

The FDA advisory committee discussed vaccine safety, effectiveness of the current shots, potential seasonality of COVID-19 and more. wildpixel/iStock via Getty Images Plus

FDA advisory committee votes unanimously in favor of a one-shot COVID-19 vaccine approach – 5 questions answered

Matthew Woodruff, Emory University

Many questions remain about next steps for US vaccine policy. But the FDA advisory panel’s hearty endorsement of a single-composition COVID-19 vaccine represents a pivotal step.

Pope Francis leads the second vespers service at St. Paul’s Basilica on Jan. 25, 2023, in Rome. Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis via Getty Images

It shouldn’t seem so surprising when the pope says being gay ‘isn’t a crime’ – a Catholic theologian explains

Steven P. Millies, Catholic Theological Union

Catholic leaders’ attitudes toward LGBTQ people have shifted dramatically – but the actual theology behind them, not so much.

The Conversation Quiz 🧠

  • Here’s the first question of this week’s edition:

    Which actor scored the first Oscar nomination of his decadeslong career for the film "The Whale"?

    1. A. Donald Sutherland
    2. B. Ewan McGregor
    3. C. Brendan Fraser
    4. D. John Goodman

    Test your knowledge