We become the stories we tell and, by doing so, we can become immortal. That’s the final message of BIG FISH, a curious drama directed by Tim Burton (THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS) that plays with fantasy and drama, in a story about a perplexed son and his dying father, an incorrigible teller of tall tales.
The movie opens at the wedding reception of the son, Will Bloom (played by Billy Crudup), where Will’s father, Edward (played by Albert Finney), steals the spotlight from the newlyweds by telling, once again, the story of what Edward was doing on the day Will was born. Edward’s fishy story involves a real fish, who Edward says swallowed his wedding ring. His father’s story irks Will to no end, because Will has grown tired of Edward’s tall tales. Will thinks that his father tells such stories about his life in order to distance himself from true human intimacy. Will goes to Paris with his French bride, and the two men don’t speak to one another for three years.
Three years later, however, Edward is dying. Will and his wife, Josephine, return to the states, where Will tries to get Edward to tell him the truth behind the fanciful stories. Meanwhile, Josephine, who is delighted by Edward’s stories, sits down to hear more. From there, the movie flashes backward to Edward’s past life, which may or may not be embellished by great amounts of fantasy.
BIG FISH ends with a celebration of Edward’s life, where William learns that most of the people in Edward’s stories are real, only embellished. For instance, there really is a giant and a circus ringmaster who are friends with Edward, but the circus ringmaster doesn’t really turn into a werewolf when the moon is full. Or, does he?
The premise, or main theme, in Will’s relationship with his father and the stories his father tells is not clear, which means that Burton’s movie is not as compelling as it could have been. Some aspects of the stories don’t even seem to make sense from a fantasy point of view. Thus, some of the stories are more successful than others. Near the end, however, Will investigates one of his father’s stories and finds out some surprising facts about his father’s kindness and the great love that his father has for Will’s mother, played by Jessica Lange. Perhaps, then, this movie is about the love that one man has for the people in his life. Edward’s love for these people is so big that he can’t help himself when it comes to making all of them seem bigger than life. By making them seem bigger than life, Edward makes himself seem bigger than life. All in all, BIG FISH probably deserves a marginal three stars.
BIG FISH also has a Romantic worldview regarding the human condition. People are basically good, the movie suggests, even if they are always telling tall tales about their life, and there is no really evil person. Also, although there are some light Christian references, such as the singing of AMAZING GRACE at a church service, Edward says he thinks it’s best not to discuss religion with other people, because you don’t know who will be offended. BIG FISH also contains some obscenities, including a couple “s-h” words, and brief nudity. MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution, therefore, because of all these problematic qualities.
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SUMMARY: BIG FISH is a curious fantasy drama about a perplexed son and his dying father, an incorrigible teller of tall tales. Sometimes entertaining and compelling, BIG FISH has a Romantic worldview, mixed with a few Christian and moral elements, some mostly light obscenities, and brief nudity.
(Ro, FR, C, B, O, LL, V, S, N, A, D, M) Romantic worldview says people are basically good, a false notion that leads to confusion, with some positive Christian, redemptive, and moral content (including brief singing of “Amazing Grace” in a worship service), although man says he believes it’s best not to talk about religion with other people because you don’t know if they will be offended or not, as well as occult element where man, an incorrigible teller of tall tales, says he and his childhood friends once visited a real witch whose glass eye could tell you how you are going to die, and one of them does indeed die the way that he says the eye revealed; 11 obscenities and no profanities; some violence, played lightly, such as soldier knocks out several enemy soldiers, man beats up another man until his nose and mouth bleed, and werewolf attacks man until man starts throwing a stick and playing fetch; light sexual references such as woman pines for married salesman who’s 10 years older than her, but he declines her offer to begin an affair because he loves his wife, married couple cuddles in bath with their clothes on, and man dies while reading Playboy and sitting on toilet (nothing is shown, however); upper and rear male nudity, rear female nudity, and nude woman swims in front of man but viewers can only see her rear end and brief shadow of her breasts (nothing explicit); alcohol use; smoking; and, miscellaneous immorality such as man stretches the truth in stories about his life and bank robbery.