Fatso is as much an analysis of obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior as it is an inculpating commentary on a peculiar aesthetic that modern Western society has adopted. The protagonist in this film is a feeding forager out of control who tries to do something about the interior demons that goad him to overeating and thus make him unacceptable to today’s societal norms of lean sleekness.
Fatso, alias Dom, is not a bad person nor is he morally repulsive. He tries to deal with certain intractable problems which are not entirely of his own making, as the rigid establishing shots that depict his infancy and youth lay out in full clarity. He is that not uncommon modern individual who is caught up to some extent in internal forces he does not fully understand and has difficulty handling. His body has become a life-long battle field ever bloodied anew by that feral civil war that rages within between his appetite and his reason.
Most people have a compulsion or two — alcohol, cleanliness, work, drugs, prescriptions medicines, sex or (like Fatso) food — but only in the case of the overeater is the compulsion mercilessly exposed for public viewing (and excoriation). Suppose a mole grew on the face of a closet-compulsive for every valium needlessly ingested or every hour unnecessarily worked …
A striking feature of the ‘imagery’ in this movie is the dominance of an iconographic component: crucifixes, cheap religious statuary, five-and-ten portraits of Jesus in luminescent reds and brash yellow and, most important, Baroque nudes. This element of the film guides our understanding. From the opening funeral of the fat cousin who died of gorging to the final crise of Fatso when, after stuffing himself with forty dollars worth of Chinese food, he sneaks up the stairs and pauses by a picture of Jesus, the agony of his compulsion is heavily laced with dollops of religious castigation at the sin of gluttony. At the same time, the aesthetic ideals of an earlier age are graphically portrayed in a significant scene in which Dom and Lydia, the young woman who loves him for what he is (and doesn’t hate him for his fat), visit a museum and we are shown the Baroque masterpieces of fat women.
Dom, alias Fatso, comes finally to accept himself for what he is, and it is clear that the movie urges the viewer to do the same. Fatso is an imperfect human being, but he is nonetheless a human being, and probably very like most of us (plug in your own compulsion!). It does not mean, however, that he is unable to function or that he is without feelings or desires, and it is quite reasonable that love scenes involving Dom and Lydia be shown. Learning to love himself through his reciprocated love for Lydia is part of his maturation, for the childishness and outright silliness in which he engages in the first part of the movie are surely indicative of how his at first dimly understood dependence on food has infantilized him. When he at last does appreciate (in both senses) himself, he has the confidence to woo Lydia, marry her and raise a large family. One can, according to this movie, be reasonably happy even if one is fat and does not look like something out of GQ or Vogue.
This is not a profound point, but it is enough for me that a movie deals frankly and openly with a pervasive human condition and presents the refreshing point of view that happiness or even comfort with life is not a function of mere external appearance. After all, a lot of very thin and very good-looking people are trapped in an equally compulsive dynamic of anorexic abstinence or chronic emesis and, I would guess, are not half as happy as Dom and Lydia. Quite plainly, Fatso challenges us to show some compassion for others as well as ourselves and not be so hard on somebody who, because he refuses to heed adventitious imperatives, dares not to look as society says he or she should.
That hardly makes for opprobrious cinema.