Big Fish

By Kellman, Steven G. | Southern Quarterly, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Big Fish

Kellman, Steven G., Southern Quarterly

Holy Mackerel. Review of BigFish. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by John August, based on a novel by Daniel Wallace. Columbia Pictures, 2003.

Daniel Wallace, who grew up in Birmingham, set his first novel in Ashland, a hamlet in eastern Alabama whose population currently numbers little more than 2,000. he now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Published in 1998, BigFish is the story of Edward Bloom, a man whose name befits a lush imagination, a raconteur who cannot help embellishing and fabricating the experiences he recounts. By the time he finishes relating an incident, the tale is as tall as Karl, a giant who mysteriously materializes in Ashland.

So it is probably appropriate that when Tim Burton-whose Edward Scissorhancls, Batman, and Sleepy Hollow are not exactly paragons of cinema verite-adapted BigFish into film, Ashland was changed to Ashton, a place not found on any map. But then you will probably not find a two-headed singer entertaining troops, as Edward claims he did after parachuting into a North Korean military base. According to his son, William, Edward is "just like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny combined- -just as funny and just as fake. "The same could be said of BigFish, except that it is not quite as funny.

One need notjourney to Garcia Marquez's Macondo in quest of the literary grotesque; it grows wild in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha and in the Southern fictions of Flannery O'Connor and William Goyen. BigFish perpetuates the stereotype of Southerners as natural-born storytellers with scant respect for reality, as though telling the truth were the genuine Lost Cause below the Mason-Dixon line. A Dixie specimen of Magical Realism, Burton's film adaptation expects a viewer to swallow everything, hook, line, and stinker. It is hard to believe that Edward's Alabama contains only one black man, a physician, although a visit to an S & L in west Texas that has been looted by real estate speculators is entirely credible.

BigFish swims in the same waters as three other recent films. Like Barbarian Invasions, it is framed by the deathbed reconciliation of a father and his son. Like secondhand Lions, it celebrates a rambunctious old coot whose memories are more inventive than accurate. And like CoW Mountain, BigFish adapts The Odyssey to an American journey beset with dangers and temptations, homeward to a patient, loving woman.

A journalist in Paris, William, exasperated with his father's constitutional aversion to honesty, has not spoken to Edward for three years.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Big Fish


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?