Big Fish

Rating: ★★★★½

What a magical movie this is. “Big Fish” challenges our faith and imagination with tales that sound too marvelous to be true, too extraordinary to be believable.  But the strongest emotions are found between the broken relationship of a dying father and his doubtful son. After years of no communication, they are reunited when human age reaches its fragile state. The son sits on a chair as he observes his weak father, who lies in what could be his deathbed.

Old Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) is a devoted storyteller who believes that true stories could use a little fiction for entertainment purposes. On the day his only son, Will, was born, he was out of town selling home appliances. Not a very exciting story for such a very momentous event. When Will is set to be married, his father shares with everyone the false account of how he caught a really big fish with his wedding ring the same day Will was born. This draws smiles from his listeners, but not from Will, who has heard the same lie repeatedly throughout his life. He walks away. And he doesn’t return until old Edward becomes confined to his bedroom.

Other than the tale about the big fish, Edward has shared more of his past experiences with Will, which he starts to recall in great detail. A series of flashbacks begin, and we are introduced to the mysterious memories of Edward, which gives an opportunity for director Tim Burton to indulge in his obsession for all things weird. Edward narrates as nostalgia kicks in, but it’s Tim Burton who supplies the imagination.

Each flashback explores a specific section of Edward’s life; they function like episodes, and every one of them has something different to say. Views of love, life and death are seen through a world full of optimism and energy. When young Edward, played by a vigorous Ewan McGregor, convinces himself that he has discovered how he dies in the future, he develops a kind of foolish valor that deserves applause only from the most committed of masochists.

He becomes a local hero in his town of Ashton. One of his many valiant services includes a moment where he charges into a burning fire without a protective suit. Edward makes the firemen look overpaid as they stand outside and watch him rescue a poor puppy. Later on, he enters a dark and dangerous forest even though a safer route is available. Because Edward has advance insight regarding his demise, he approaches life at lightning speed and with a positive soul. When he goes all in to pursue Sandra Templeton, the girl of his dreams, we can only wish that we possess the same kind of determination.

Edward’s stories are full of encouragements as much as they are full of dubious aspects. (Did he really buy a field of flowers just to impress the girl?) Yes, they are amusing, but surely, they are only fairy tales, right? We then go back to reality, and Will continues to shake his head, wondering if he’ll ever get the chance to know the truth about his father’s life. Old Edward continues to insist that his words are facts.

As the movie draws to its final minutes, we shift from Edward’s stories to Will’s thoughts. Everything that happened before was a joyful ride, but when we start to see things from Will’s perspective, “Big Fish” adapts a heavier tone that can almost be described as tragedy. Because Will has gotten used to his father’s constant retelling of the untruthful story regarding his birthday, we can’t blame him if he starts to doubt every story his tells him from that point on. I believe that the greatest lesson that one can acquire from “Big Fish” are not from the events that cause the laughs, but the tears.

In the end, fact and fiction are never fully separated. Maybe what the movie wants is to leave us within Will’s state of mind, and not inside Edward’s. Just when we are about to say goodbye, a little truth shows itself, which could be enough to slap our skepticism to shame. And then, the things that we dismiss ridiculous at first may be the same things that become the source of our comfort. Looks like that old storyteller knew what he was doing after all.


  1. Nice review … need to watch “Big Fish”.

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