Have you ever left church on Sunday and wondered how many of the captivating illustrations in the sermon were actually true? This is not to say they were lies, only that some of them seemed to be exaggerated in order to fit the sermon–to tell a larger truth.Big Fish
is an elegant and moving film about the power of story to transform the black and white of life into a colorful journey. The movie centers on the final days of Edward Bloom (played by Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor as the old and young Bloom respectively). As a flamboyant salesman from Alabama, he has a notable reputation for being a teller of tall tales. But he is also a man that does not want to be constrained by the limitations of a small town. When he is offered the choice between complacency and challenge, he takes the more exiting of the two choices.
While his wife Sandra (played magically by Jessica Lange and Alison Lohman) looks on lovingly as her man weaves his fantastic tales, their son Will (Billy Crudup) has grown tired of trying to sort through the truth and the far-fetched yarns. Will is a journalist, committed to the truth of facts. His father, on the other hand, is committed to the squeezing the most out of life. Their divergent ways of processing truth leads to animosity and antagonism-manifest by going years without speaking.
Sandra lovingly does what she can to keep the lines of communications open between father and son. It is Edward’s bout with cancer, however, that brings father and son back together for a chance at reconciliation and to discover that the power of story is able to transform life into something spectacular.
Throughout the film, we are introduced to offbeat characters such as a giant, a poet-bank robber-tycoon, Korean lounge-singing conjoined twins, and various circus sideshow freaks. The stellar cast includes Helena Bonham Carter, Danny DeVito, and Steve Buscemi.
Director Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissorhands) remarkably uses his quirky and unique cinematic vision to make a profound statement in the film about marriage and the discovery of true love. In an era when so many films are driven more by special effects than emotion, Big Fish is driven by and relies upon the brilliance of storytelling.
“The story is so great. I don’t think I have really seen a script like it,” actress Alison Lohman told me. “It is about beauty, and magic, and mystery. Telling stories and passing them on from generation to generation. Southern folklore. There are just not too many movies about that.” She went on to say that it was the power of the script that drew her to the movie. “I think it is hard right now to find stories that are worth being told.” Big Fish is the kind of movie that animates your discussion in the car on your drive home from the theater.
Watching the finished product was an emotional roller coaster for a seasoned actor like Danny DeVito because it sparked so many memories of his own relationship with his father. “Reliving instances that have nothing to do with the film, while watching the film, it triggered so many different emotional things that are so wonderful and personal for each and every one of us.”
Big Fish is a profoundly unique, mystical, and non-formulaic movie that easily glides from fantasy to reality, from the past to present. It leaves the audience with the opportunity to sort through what is real and what is exaggerated–all the while wearing a grin throughout this endearing tale.
–Steve Beard is the editor of Good News magazine and the creator of www.thunderstruck.org, where this first appeared.