Tim Burton: “Big Fish”

A witch. A giant. A werewolf. Conjoined twins. Daring feats of strength. A magical town.

Tim Burton’s 2003 film, Big Fish, has it all.

Based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel of the same name, the film stars Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito, Jessica Lange, and a large cast of other actors. It is a delightful, fantastic, over-the-top spectacle of a small Southern traveling circus, complete with “freaks,” as they are often known. It also tells the story of Spectre, a fairy-tale, utopian version of a small town in Alabama.

Big Fish is also a tale within a tale, the story of a young man, Will Bloom, saying goodbye to his elderly, dying father, Edward. When Will was a boy, Edward regaled him with one fantastic story after another – and he continues the outlandish tall tales on his deathbed. Will, who had been caught up in the tales as a child, eventually came to believe his father was a liar, that he’d spun crazy yarns to make himself look larger than life and perhaps to hide the secrets of his real life.

Most of the film is the reconstructed telling of Edward’s fantastic, dreamlike world, the stuff of myth and legend. Swept along with the story, the viewer – as Will had as a boy – wants to believe, but it all just seems so far-fetched. Is it real? Is it make-believe? Or is it something in between? You’ll have to watch the film – all the way through to the end – and then decide for yourself.

In the meantime, I will say that – true or not – Big Fish is a marvelous, wonderful tale of an unlikely cast of characters you won’t soon forget. It’s also a beautiful, if emotionally challenging exploration of a father-son relationship. Will Edward and Will come to an understanding of each other in time? Will Will forgive his father’s tall tales, his penchant for what can only be called Southern gothic storytelling?

StoryWeb, of course, celebrates all things storytelling – and Edward Bloom is a storyteller par excellence. His tales raise the age-old question: Is the story true – or is it “just” a story? By film’s end, you may be inclined to believe, as Edward clearly does, that truth and imagination, story and fact are inextricably tied up together. As Will says, “In telling the story of my father’s life, it’s impossible to separate the fact from the fiction, the man from the myth. It doesn’t always make sense, but that’s the kind of story this is.”

The film is available on DVD, and the entire script is online. You might find it fun to explore the locations used in the filming of Big Fish. And of course, you’ll want to stop by Tim Burton’s official website. (Be forewarned: it’s tricky to navigate this one-of-a-kind website!)

As Edward tells Will, “Most men will tell you a story straight through. It won’t be complicated, but it won’t be interesting either.” Big Fish is delightfully complicated and very, very interesting. Watch it – you won’t be disappointed!

Watch:Watch the trailer for Big Fish to get a taste of the fantastical yarns Edward Bloom spins.