Big Fish (2003) directed by Tim Burton is a bittersweet tale about a man who comes back home to see his dying father. Burton takes the audience on a journey as the son tries to piece back together the life his father truly lived. Through the mirage of fanciful tales of fish, witches, delightful towns, robberies, and a swing in a circus, the son finds that—to his frustration—nothing is as it seems.
Tim Burton unfolds the life of Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor [younger], Albert Finney [older]) through the use of fantasy and adventure with a slight sprinkle of tragedy. Don’t be discouraged, the film is primarily in the fantasy/adventure slot. The use of tall tales is a bit of a talent to Ed Bloom, which is shown from the beginning as he tells the story of how he caught an uncatchable prehistoric fish. The audience is kept at the edge of their seats as they wonder where Bloom will find himself next and how he can get out of his spot of trouble.
Through the journey, the son, Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) learns the hard lesson of acceptance. Although he and his father are both very different people, after he pieces some of his life together, he finds that he understands his father a bit better. He learns why he was told such beautiful tales from his birth and how to treat others. Will also learns that he shouldn’t judge people at glance. “Most things you consider evil or wicked are simply lonely, and lacking in the social niceties.”
In this particular movie, it is quite clear that the movie would be nothing without Edward Bloom. In part, because this is a bit of a biographical tale of his life, but mostly, it is because who he is as a person. His yearning for adventure and his fearlessness are some of the main drivers to the plot of the movie. There is also the spark that is seen through his kindness, his charisma, and his witty ploys. Even in the film, to others he is a character. His tales are enrapturing and although some have heard them before, they enjoy listening to them again and again.
Unlike other films by Burton, for the most part, this movie utilized vibrant and soft colors. He makes a stark different between the present and the past through the palate that he uses. When it is set in the present, the color are very muted and dark gray, hospital white, and shadows dominate the screen when Ed’s conditions worsen. The past however, works as a foil of these shades. It is filled with light, gold, reds and blues along with the most beautiful grass you have ever seen. The only times that the palate seeps back to dark in the scenes about the past is when Ed is battling against something. Because the story is sometimes told in a different order, it is sometimes hard to keep up, however, Burton aids this with cinematography. One of the best uses of this in the film is the use of flashbacks. Burton uses flashbacks to show a complete different side of the story when he relays the montage of Ed’s teenage years in his hometown near the end of the story. There are also the shots of the mythical prehistoric fish shown throughout the film which keeps its mysterious theme in the undercurrent of the story.
As Ed’s tales are told, it is clear that the main struggle is man vs. world. Although the audience is kept in the dark about exactly how much of the story is real, the cause of most of Ed’s challenges are things that are unpredictable. Right when the audience believes that Edward will settle down and be happy somewhere, he is thrown for a loop. There are several causes to these shifts: giants, poets, and even the United States government. Yet, as the main struggle plays out, a secondary struggle is seen through man vs. self. Both Edward and Will are privy to this struggle. Edward, because he is uncatchable, always becomes unsettled when he is about to be caught. Be it by a community, a job, and normalcy. Will experiences this as he struggles to keep his rigid views on the past and his father.
The best part about the film are those in Edward’s past. The mystery behind the witch, the elaborate rouses utilized to escape unscathed, and the fact that the audience never knows what comes next. Yet, there is weakness within all of this intrigue because the audience is never quite sure what is real. Sure, this keeps the audience on their toes, but too many hours on your tippy-toes can be taxing, ask any ballerina. There is also the use of a character more than once which messes with the timeline of the story.
Despite all of this, the film is quite enjoyable to watch. The characters were interesting and were so varied, anyone could find one to relate to. They were fun and complex, even if they did not get a lot of screen time. I couldn’t help but feeling like one of the people within the movie while I watched. Those who sat attentively with Edward as he was older and he told his tales.
Although this was a bit different from the usual Tim Burton movie there were definitely some things that he kept stylistically. He used outsiders to bring about a different view of the story. He used the supernatural as in seen in scenes where a tree literally picked Ed of the ground. There are even some peculiarities to structures such as the way Spectre was laid out and Jenny’s house. There was also the use of nature and how rapid change is seen through the use of time-lapse.
Over-all the film was very interesting and felt a bit like a bedtime story. It leaves the viewer questioning what is real and is not but allows them to cherish the points that it tries to delineate. I believe that it is one of Burton’s more beautiful films. This film deserves 7 out of 10 strawberries.