Big Fish

Film Review by Jeffrey Winters

Big Fish is directed by Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhand, Ed Wood, Batman), as a realistic story about a father-son reconciliation, a fantasy with beautiful special effects, a mythological tale, and an emotional drama that might require tissues at the end of the film.

Almost every mythological story contains an object that repeats throughout the tale and personifies the deepest meaning of the story. For instance in the King Arthur mythology the sword represents the making of a king. In Lord of the Rings the golden ring represents the triumph of good over evil.

Big Fish introduces a catfish that is as large as a huge shark. This amazing fish begins and ends as a tall tale, but really is a metaphor for a far deeper spiritual and emotional meaning.

Albert Finney plays the adult and dying Edward Bloom. You may remember Finney’s first fame forty years ago with “Tom Jones.” In Big Fish his performance as a southern man who loves to tell tall tales has earned him the best supporting actor award from the golden globes. Finney’s performance contains a deeply felt gentle spirit. We watch his character dying from cancer and coming to terms with his illness. Yet the acting (as well as the script) completely lacks a maudlin or morbid tone. Instead, Finney offers subtle emotions combined with an affable personality. This penetrates the audience with tender feelings.

The film flawlessly vacillates between the older Edward Bloom (Finney) and the younger Edward Bloom played by Ewan McGregor. McGregor acts out the tall tales with a calm and innocent confidence which has a combined tinge of curiosity and humility.

Tim Burton uses the young Bloom to inhabit a world of different colors, set designs and pure imagination. In this altered universe we travel with Edward Bloom (McGregor) as he meets Karl the giant, a witch with a glass eye, conjoined twins Ping and Jing, poet Norther Winslow acted by Steve Buscemi and carnival barker Amos raucously played by Danny DeVito.

The older Bloom is married to Sandra (Jessica Lange) and the younger Bloom shows how he meets, falls hopelessly in love and courts the younger Sandra (played by Allison Lohman). Allison Lohman looks so much like Jessica Lange it is uncanny.

During this back and forth story, the central story line centers on Bloom (Finney) having little or no communication with his young son Will (Billy Crudup). Will has heard his father’s stories for so long he believes his dad is an inauthentic man. He feels he has no clue about who his father really is.

When he is called from his journalistic job in Paris to fly back to his father’s death bed, Will makes an effort to communicate.

Will discovers that the stories are not so terrible, but a doorway into the deeper realms of his father. I thought the communication between father and son was powerful and psychologically honest.

Big Fish has a few slow spots. Yet it uses imagination, wit, mythological storytelling and the pain of relationships to create a very unique film.