WHALE MUSIC is the fascinating and touching story of Desmond Howl, a reclusive, psychologically troubled ex-rock star whose life is changed by a spirited 19-year-old girl who unexpectedly arrives at his dilapidated mansion. Many reviews posited that Howl is based on Brian Wilson of the
Beach Boys, an interpretation that undervalues the film's originality and spirit.
Since his brother and bandmate Danny committed suicide nine years ago, Desmond Howl (Maury Chaykin) has secluded himself in his oceanside mansion. He eats like a slob, swims in a filthy pool in his backyard, never cleans, and spends hours in his basement studio composing a musical opus intended
for whales. He is haunted by visions of Danny, who appears by the pool, in a deserted room in the mansion, and in the glass cases holding their gold records. Desmond's existence in the mansion is threatened by his ex-wife Fay (Jennifer Dale), who plans to send him to a mental hospital if he
doesn't sell the mansion, and his manager Kenneth (Kenneth Welsh), whose contract will allow him to take "Whale Music" from Desmond.
One morning, Desmond discovers Claire (Cyndy Preston), a young runaway, sleeping on his couch. At first, the antisocial Desmond is bewildered by the plucky and uninhibited girl, but once he discovers that she likes his music, he starts to open up to her. She stays, and takes care of him. Some
order is restored to Desmond's life, and he writes his first new pop song in years.
Claire cleans Desmond's pool and paints a whale on its wall. She decides to throw a party so Desmond can play "Whale Music" for his friends. Desmond, however, has trouble coping with the presence of the guests. Fay arrives unexpectedly, giving him an ultimatum to sell the mansion. Danny's ghost
appears at dinner and Desmond throws a fit. Claire leaves him.
Distraught, Desmond leaves the house and enters the city for the first time in years. He finds Claire in a strip club. He attempts to take her away, but is beaten up by bouncers and thrown in jail. Kenneth bails him out. Desmond offers Kenneth the music if Kenneth will help him find Claire.
Kenneth, tired of Desmond's eccentricities, refuses, stating that the contract will allow him to take the music without Desmond's permission. Desmond runs off with the master tapes, throws them in the ocean, and dives in after them. In the water, he finds the wreckage of Danny's suicide car. He
finally comes to grips with Danny's death.
Desmond keeps a copy of "Whale Music," which he plays through large speakers by the oceanside. Claire returns to him. As they kiss, whales come to the ocean's surface.
WHALE MUSIC is a bizarre story about unusual characters, full of odd flashbacks, visions, and hallucinations. Nevertheless, once the viewer becomes acquainted with Desmond and Claire, both the visuals and the narrative are perfectly clear. Chaykin's performance (which won him the Canadian
equivalent of an Academy Award) is brilliant, transforming Desmond from an antisocial eccentric into a visionary, a touching lost soul whose friends can't understand his deceptively simple needs. Cyndy Preston is equally good as Claire, the one person who accepts Desmond as he is. She, too, is a
lost soul, and despite the fact that she's 30 years younger than Desmond, her strength and independence are the perfect counterpoint to his vulnerability and childlike nature.
WHALE MUSIC is full of mesmerizing images, such as Claire sitting in an aquarium window as whales swim by, Desmond meeting Danny's ghost in the pool, the mountain ranges framing the ocean, knobs on the musical equipment moving magically, and the naked Desmond playing the tape of the "Whale Music."
The music, a mix of new age and surf by the Rheostats, is ideally suited to the film.
The last half-hour is a bit of a disappointment, as the plot begins to take precedence over the characterization and the imagery. Desmond and Claire are more interesting as friends than lovers, and the "noble effort" of throwing away the tapes seems unlikely and forced. Nevertheless, the sight of
the whales coming to the surface is poignant and uplifting, and very few films bring the viewer closer to their characters, who, here, are unforgettable. (Sexual situations, adult situations, profanity, nudity.)
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- Released: 1994
- Review: WHALE MUSIC is the fascinating and touching story of Desmond Howl, a reclusive, psychologically troubled ex-rock star whose life is changed by a spirited 19-year-old girl who unexpectedly arrives at his dilapidated mansion. Many reviews posited that Howl i… (more)