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Big Fish

September 27, 2015

BFFantastical storytelling and cross-generational misunderstanding in an imaginative comedy drama.

Themes: the power of stories, the gift of imagination and vision seeing things with fresh eyes.

The movie begins with Will Bloom’s (Billy Crudup) narrative of his father. We see his dad, Edward Bloom, as an old man (Albert Finney) fishing. He then turns around and is young Edward (Ewan McGregor). Young Edward has grabbed the biggest catfish ever known to man. He opens the fish’s mouth and grabs his wedding ring. He lets the fish go. Will explains that his dad thinks the big is the spirit some old pirate who is obsessed with gold, therefore his dad attracts the fish with his ring.

Senior Ed Bloom: People needn’t worry so much. It’s not my time yet. This is not how I go.
Will Bloom: Really?
Senior Ed Bloom: Truly. I saw it in the eye.
Will Bloom: The old lady by the swamp?
Senior Ed Bloom: She was a *witch*.
Will Bloom: No, she was old and probably senile.
Senior Ed Bloom: I saw my death in that eye, and this isn’t how it happens.
Will Bloom: So how does it happen?
Senior Ed Bloom: Surprise ending. Wouldn’t want to ruin it for you.

 

Senior Ed Bloom: I don’t know if you’re aware of this, Josephine, but African parrots, in their native home of the Congo, they speak only French.
Josephine: Really?
Senior Ed Bloom: You’re lucky to get four words out of them in English, but if you were to walk through the jungle, you’d hear them speaking the most elaborate French. Those parrots talk about everything. Politics, movies, fashion. Everything but religion.
Will Bloom: Why not religion, Dad?
Senior Ed Bloom: It’s rude to talk about religion. You never know who you’re gonna offend.
Will Bloom: Josephine actually went to the Congo last year.
Senior Ed Bloom: Oh, so you know.

 

 

Senior Ed Bloom: I’ve been nothin’ but myself since the day I was born, and if you can’t see that it’s your failin’, not mine.

Will Bloom: We have to take Glenville to avoid the church traffic because the damn church people drive too slow.

Senior Ed Bloom: There’s a time when a man needs to fight, and a time when he needs to accept that his destiny is lost… the ship has sailed and only a fool would continue. Truth is… I’ve always been a fool.

 

Will Bloom: A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories. They live on after him, and in that way he becomes immortal.

 

Will Bloom: In telling the story of my father’s life, it’s impossible to separate fact from fiction, the man from the myth. The best I can do is to tell it the way he told me. It doesn’t always make sense and most of it never happened… but that’s what kind of story this is.

 

Young Ed Bloom: I can’t go back, I’m a human sacrifice.

 

Senior Ed Bloom: They say when you meet the love of your life, time stops, and that’s true. What they don’t tell you is that when it starts again, it moves extra fast to catch up.

 

Young Ed Bloom: There comes a point when any reasonable man will swallow his pride and admit he made a mistake. The truth is… I was never a reasonable man.

Senior Ed Bloom: I’ve told you a thousand facts, Will, that’s what I do. I tell stories.
Will Bloom: You tell lies, Dad.

Senior Ed Bloom: Sometimes, the only way to catch an uncatchable woman is to offer her a wedding ring.

 

In the middle of the lettered board in the bank that Norther Winslow robs reads “ROMANS 12:1-2.” This refers to the passages in the Bible that says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The film’s theme of reconciliation between a dying father and his son had special significance for Burton, as his father had died in 2000 and his mother in 2002, a month before he signed on to direct

Religion and film scholar Kent L. Brintnall observes how the father-son relationship resolves itself at the end of the film. As Edward dies, Will finally lets go of his anger and begins to understand his father for the first time:

As poet Muriel Ruykeyser said, “The world is made up of stories, not atoms,” so, too, “Big Fish” is a fable fused with fiction, not facts, from one man’s life. This whale of a tale entertains with larger-than-life exaggerations, while also inspiring in some of the most meaningful of relationships.

The embellished flashbacks about Edward’s adventures start in his adolescence when he and some friends visit a supposed haunted house occupied by a witch. Edward and his friends each look into the witch’s glass eyeball, believing that when they do, they will see how they’re going to die. When Edward looks into the eye, we are kept from seeing what he sees, which hooks us into this mystery until the end of the film.

Psalm 90:12: ”Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Edward’s seeing of how he would die, becomes a springboard for how he lives the rest of his life. Because he knew, and was not afraid, it gave him a kind of boldness and faith in how he faced life and any troubles along the way.

It offers a “wider” view of humanity, one which refuses to define man in narrow connect-the-dots terms, but as something greater than the sum of his or her parts. Life is not a list of facts and dates — a problem to be solved — but a mystery and an adventure to be embraced. In accomplishing this, Burton has fulfilled the duty of the artist — which, according to G.K. Chesterton, is to “awaken and keep alive the sense of wonder in man.”

Christian imagery (whether the writers and Burton intended it or not): from churches, to the sacramental signs woven throughout: the river and baptism, fidelity to marriage and the wedding ring, fire, confirmation and adulthood, reconciliation, eucharist in the sharing of food, community as church, the fish and so on.

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