Magazine article The Christian Century

Fish Stories

Magazine article The Christian Century

Fish Stories

Article excerpt

TIM BURTON'S Big Fish begins with a sentimental premise: an 11th-hour reconciliation between a dying father and his estranged son. Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) has never forgiven his dad, Edward (Albert Finney), for withholding the truth about himself all these years, rendering his past in the form of whoppers that enthralled Will as a child but infuriated him when he grew up and realized they were fantasies.

Will links Edward's stories with his frequent absences, and regards them as indications of his general inaccessibility as a father, and possibly as evidence that he was living another life apart from Will and his mother, Sandra (Jessica Lange). Will is a storyteller himself, a novelist, and John August's screenplay (adapted from Daniel Wallace's novel) gives him sufficient romantic imagination to marry a beautiful French photojournalist (Marion Cotillard) who finds Edward charming, Yet when Will insists on learning the unvarnished truth from his ailing dad, he seems to have the soul of an office clerk. What he discovers, of course, is that he's got Edward all "wrong.

The set-up may be conventional, but Burton and August use it as a flame for a series of tall tales, each wilder and funnier than the one before. It turns out that Edward (played as a young man by Ewan McGregor) is a fabulist who constructs extravagant metaphors for the phases of his life. Childhood, when he first glimpses life's mysteries, is embodied in an adventure he embarks on with his buddies: they confront a witch (Helena Bonham Carter) whose glass eye predicts the death of anyone with the nerve to stare her in the face. (This sequence contains inevitable echoes of the great episode in Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis in which little Margaret O'Brien is initiated into the rituals of Halloween.)

Edward proves his manhood by saving his town from a hungry giant (Matthew McGrory), who becomes his first traveling companion. His quest for excitement leads him through dangerous woods to an idyllic village called Spectre, where people tend to get lost, their shoes strung up on a clothesline so they can't wander away--but he manages to escape. He courts the girl of his dreams (Alison Lohman, sad-eyed but entranced, looking like a figure in a pre-Raphaelite painting, plays Sandra as a young woman) in a field of daffodils, her favorite flower He earns her love by hard toil at a circus whose owner (Danny DeVito) has promised him one piece of information about her for each month he works. …

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