Big Fish (2003)

This is another one of Tim Burton’s masterpieces. I really appreciate his eye for detail and the way he invites viewers to immerse themselves into his vision. The cinematography in this movie has magical qualities. I found myself thinking about metaphorical imagery used by Tim Burton to depict how our recollection of personal experiences seem to morph as we revisit relationships and situations during different life stages. Heightened or diminished senses can play tricks on us, leading us to think that the world has changed around us, when in fact, it us and our perception of things that has changed. Suddenly, someone who was seen as a warm and caring character can become a cold hearted ogre when the bond is broken or the contact diminished.

Big Fish is the life story of Edward Bloom narrated through his son, who is reluctantly pulled back into his father’s orbit as Edward’s health rapidly declines. As the son struggles to accept and understand his dying father, he too is set to become a father, and his heavily-pregnant wife really helps him to see Edward through her eyes. Edward is a great story teller, yet somehow, there is this push-pull dynamic between the two as his communication style pushes Will (his son) away. Edward’s professional success led him to be away from home for long periods of time, effectively becoming an absent father. This was a typical phenomenon for traditional families in the 60’s, where it was common for father’s to take the back seat in terms of parenting duties. Thus, Edward’s life on the road remains a mystery that Will is trying to unravel before they run out of time. There is so much being said that never happened, while there is so much that happened that was never mentioned. Why did Edward’s wife stay? And what makes him think of himself as a big fish?

The movie is peppered with fantastic visual metaphors: for instance, very early in the movie, Edward faces his fears (the giant) which acts as a catalyst to leave the small town where he grew up. Early in the journey, he encounters a treacherous path that accidentally leads to the town of Spectre. The town itself is another metaphor for comfort, and while that works for some, Edward thinks there is something wrong with the town and decides to leave. The town reappears later in the story, only with a different feel, yet another metaphor of how similar situations feel completely different depending on our level of maturity and life experience. The stories within the story are so well crafted that it is difficult to pick favorites.

What did you think of this movie? and what are some of your favorite metaphors?

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