Edward Bloom is a man that lives within his stories, or perhaps to put it more accurately, his stories live within his life. “Most men, they’ll tell you a story straight through. It won’t be complicated, but it won’t be interesting either.”
Big Fish (2003) follows Will Bloom (Billy Crudup), who has spent his life living under the shadow of his father Edward’s life stories. Now that Edward is dying, Will desperately tries to get his father to separate the fact from the fiction, in order to understand the man amongst the make-believe.
The film captures the true beauty and wonder of both life and storytelling. The audience is treated to the story of Edward’s life in his passionate attempt to win over his future wife, involving a giant, a circus troop, and two Siamese twins that are rather attached to each other.
At its outset, Big Fish explores the relationship between fathers and sons. We see the frustration of a young man who wants to know his father, and a dad’s frustration at not being understood. However, the film moves much deeper than this through its beautifully fantastical cinematography. It blends the real world of the dying Edward (Albert Finney), with the enhanced world of the memories of his younger self (Ewan McGregor).
Within the story version of his life, the film creates an opposing uncanny valley effect, where everything is a bit off but instead of feeling unsettling it makes everything more believable. It takes the audience back to being a child with moments of being grabbed by trees in a dark forest, and it raining so much while driving that the car gets submerged in water. The film plays with us, making us remember childhood dreams of living within adventure books and wondering why we ever grew out of it. (That depressing moment when you realise your favorite fictional world would be a nightmare to actually live in). Big Fish is a reminder of life’s own fantasy and adventure, if only we look through the right eyes. Life, after all, is much stranger than fiction.
Big Fish encourages its audience not only to be themselves, but to accept every part of what makes them who they are. Will needs to understand his father in order to be a good father himself, and be happy with who he is. Edward meanwhile is never persuaded to be anyone but himself, despite the many times where it would have been wise to change. He admits to not being a reasonable man, pushing towards his goals no matter what or who was in his way. He lived for himself and for his family. We cannot change our family or the situations and choices of our past. What we can change is how we look back on them, as lessons learnt, challenges conquered and stories to be shared.
Directed by: Tim Burton
Screenplay by: John August
Staring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney and Billy Crudup