That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

Whale Music

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010 2:52 pm—Film

Whale Music (Canada 1994, Comedy/Drama), Writers: Paul Quarrington, Richard J. Lewis; Director: Richard J. Lewis

I have often thought of writing about Whale Music on this blog. I even re-watched it a few months ago with that purpose in mind, but just didn’t get to it. Today, I’m writing about it briefly as a tribute to its star, Maury Chaykin, a gifted Canadian actor who died yesterday—his birthday—at age 61.

Whale Music stayed with me from the first time I saw it, well over a decade ago. It’s about a lost man named Desmond Howl (Chaykin) who was once a highly successful rock star, but now hides in his dilapidated ocean-side mansion, haunted by the death of his brother (Paul Gross), heartbroken over the infidelity of his wife (Jennifer Dale), and obsessed with composing a symphony for whales. When 19-year-old runaway Claire (Cyndy Preston) hijacks his loneliness and refuses to let him wallow, the two find a way to heal some of the gaping wounds in their hearts by making their own off-beat brand of music together.

There is more to Whale Music than just its lead performer. The writing is textured and deep, which isn’t surprising given that it was co-written by the late Paul Quarrington, who wrote the Governor General’s Award-winning novel upon which the film is based. It paints a vivid picture of a truly disturbed mind, offering the kind of layering and complexity that was sadly missing from this summer’s blockbuster psychological thriller, Inception.

Whale Music is also richly atmospheric. In bringing it to the screen, director Richard J. Lewis took the opportunity to bolster the profound storyline with the awesome beauty of the British Columbia coastline, and the breathtaking sights and sounds of whales—the most majestic and mythical creatures on the planet.

But. Whale Music would not be what it is without Maury Chaykin’s magnificent performance.

I have always loved Chaykin’s acting. He’s been in the business for more than three decades (since before I was born), bringing depth and colour to characters in dozens of films and TV shows, including Blindness, Dances With Wolves, The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica, My Cousin Vinny, The Mask of Zorro, Entourage… And of his many performances, the one he delivers in Whale Music has long been my favourite.

On the back of Whale Music’s DVD case, Chaykin is proclaimed to be “a monument of emotion.” It’s corny, but it’s true. Chaykin was a big man. It’s as if he used every extra ounce to channel the incredible energy and feeling that fuelled his performances. You can feel the emotion he’s portraying on camera, almost as if it were coursing through your own veins, accelerating the beat of your own heart. Or at least, that’s the power he had over me in his best work.

I’m so sad he’s gone. He was always a highlight in any film I found him in, a reason to go and see it. I’m thankful, though, that so much of his passion and talent have been preserved on film. He took his gifts and returned them to everyone who watched his work. If I feel this loss as deeply as I do, I can only imagine that it must be resounding across the country, even around the world, for those who really knew him. Maury, you will be missed and you will be remembered.

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For more on Richard J. Lewis, check out his feature on


2 Responses

  1. Richard J Lewis

    Thanks for this Amanda. Really nice.

  2. amanda

    Thank you so much for your comment, Richard. I’m honoured that you read this. Belated congratulations on a fabulous film, and I’m sorry for your loss.

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