stuff close

Chesterton House

A Center for Christian Studies at Cornell

Big Fish

How will you tell the story of your life? How will you capture and remember the people, the moments that are the unfolding drama of life? Is there a story in your life worth telling?

 

Big Fish, directed by Tim Burton and adapted from a Daniel Wallace novel by John August (Charlie’s Angels, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle), is a fairy tale – heroic, romantic, and fantastic. It is about the telling of one man’s life, Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney). Edward has narrated his life through a string of unbelievable tales, stories he has told a thousand times and which his son, Will (Billy Crudup), can recite by heart… with disdain. Now that Edward is dying, Will wants to discover the truth about who his father really is – he wants to uncover the man behind the myths, or as Will insists on referring to the stories, “the lies.” “In telling the story of my father's life, it's impossible to separate fact from fiction, the man from the myth.”

 

Matthew Kirby (www.metaphilm.com) describes Big Fish as “a tall tale about the necessity of fiction if there is to be any truth in the world.” Exactly. James Berardinelli (Reelviews) writes, “In addition to telling a wonderful fairy tale, Burton is lauding the importance of storytelling and emphasizing the need to keep some element of magic and mystery in a world that has become coldly cynical.” The great irony of the film and the heart of the film’s metaphor is that the myths reveal the real Edward. Big Fish is a cinematic fairy tale about the transforming power of art.

 

The title calls to mind the wistful fisherman telling the tale of how the big one got away. Who is the “big fish”? How is the fish caught, and how is the fish set free?

 

The cinematic world of Tim Burton is a quirky blend of fantasy and reality (Batman, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow) – the surreal mingles with the real often creating a jarring, rejuvenated view of the familiar. Burton’s films are often dark and cynical, but Big Fish is a hopeful and noble story infused with a determined idealism. The confidence and optimism of the tale, actually of Edward’s life, is the answer to a question posed early in the film: How would you live your life if you knew today how your life would end?

 

Big Fish features a splendid blend of characters and performances by Albert Finney as the older Edward Bloom, Jessica Lange as the older Sandra Bloom, Ewan McGregor as the younger Edward, Danny DeVito, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi, and Robert Guillaume. The film is beautifully shot and edited, and glides effortlessly between the reality of fantasy and the fantasy of reality. Burton has given us a celebration of the art of storytelling and the storymaking of love.

-Steve Froehlich

 

Questions for discussion:

  • Big fish in a small pond… The big one that got away – how do these familiar expressions fit into the story of the film?
  • How does the element of water figure into the imagery and ideas of the story?
  • Is Edward Bloom self-centered or unselfish? What leads you to that conclusion?
  • What motivates Edward to live his life the way he has?