Is my opening paragraph true, partly true, or a flat-out lie? And does it matter? Would you rather read that I had to clear my way through a very messy office before beginning to write? I didn't think so. But what does all this have to do with Big Fish, one of my favorite movies of 2003? Everything -- because Tim Burton's latest film focuses on a man whose entire life revolves around storytelling. Based on Daniel Wallace's novel, this enchanting combination of fantasy and reality features memorable performances by Albert Finney (Erin Brockovich) and Ewan McGregor (Down with Love) as Edward Bloom at various stages of the man's life -- as well as by Billy Crudup (Almost Famous) in the more down-to-earth role of Bloom's estranged son William.
Returning home to be with his dying father, William hopes to find out more about the man who told him such wild stories while growing up -- but always kept him at arm's length. Unfortunately, the senior Bloom still regales everyone with the same tall tales, so William is forced to listen again. He relives once more the circumstances surrounding his father's unusual birth as well as his encounter with a huge fish and his adventures involving a hungry giant (Matthew McGrory), a one-eyed witch (Helena Bonham Carter), Siamese twins (Ada and Arlene Tai), a bank-robbing poet (Steve Buscemi), a traveling circus with a weird ringmaster (Danny DeVito), a strange little town, a playful werewolf and World War II.
Thanks to the imaginative direction of Tim Burton (Sleepy Hollow), these wonderful stories come to life with humor and a cinematic style all their own. Who, besides William, cares whether they really happened or not? There's a lot to be said for whimsical storytelling. It's been around for a long time -- and probably grew out of our ancestors' need to amuse others. Finally, even William learns that his father's incredible stories actually reveal many truths about who he really is.
Edward Bloom is a maker of myths. And he loves his wife so much he swears time stopped for everyone except him the first moment he saw her. While Jessica Lange (Masked and Anonymous) and Alison Lohman (White Oleander) don't have much to say as Mrs. Bloom, they both project the kind of caring, "good-listener" attitude we would expect from Bloom's spouse.
Big Fish not only charmed me completely with its humanity and humor -- it surprised me with its wisdom. Frank Lloyd Wright once pointed out, "The truth is more important than the facts" -- which is what this special movie so eloquently tells us. (Released by Columbia Pictures and rated "PG-13" for a fight scene, some images of nudity and a suggestive reference.)
The use of myth in Daniel Wallace's Big Fish is particularly what allows Edward Bloom to keep other people in his life at a distance. By stretching the events of his life into tall tales, Edward was able to create an identity for himself that was more noteworthy or memorable than the objective facts that typified his existence. However, Edward's son, Will, is called home to reconcile with his father has he nears death; though one of his true motivations is to separate myth from reality once and for all. Essentially, this is the emotional setting of the story: Will believes that if he can divine the facts of his father's life from the myths, then he will somehow be closer to him and understand him before his death. Yet, as he uncovers more of the inspirations for Edward's tall tales, he comes to realize that the fictional stories he's been told his whole life are more true to the character of…