Implied Dissent

Thursday, January 15, 2004

In response to Bob's pointed note below, I will take a moment to fill you in on a movie that I loved: Big Fish. Directed by Tim Burton and based on the book "Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions" by Daniel Wallace, the film does not easily fit into any genre. I have described it to others as "mystical realism" along the lines of "Like Water for Chocolate" and "House of the Spirits," but that isn't really accurate. It can also be compared to "The Princess Bride," but that isn't exactly a good fit either. We have come to expect mold-breaking films from Time Burton, who brought us "Edward Scissorhands," "Batman" and "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" among other films (he has also announced plans to direct a remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), but this film is his most category-defying work yet.

The story is a simple one, an estranged son returns home to make peace with his father before he dies. What made Big Fish work for me was the contrast between this realistic story the myths and fantasies that take the place of what in another movie would be flashbacks. Not wanting to ruin the movie for anyone who may be reading this, I'll just say that the father (played by Ewan MacGregor and Albert Finney) has a talent for telling stories, epitomized by his favorite story about the biggest fish that got away. The fish theme is carried throughout - playing on the concepts of "fish out of water," "big fish in a small pond" and others. The stories are fantastic, and presented by the father as absolute truth - causing his son (played by Billy Crudup) to feel betrayed and angry years later as he comes to believe that his father has lied to him. His main complaint is, however, not having been deceived but that he he feels that he doesn't know his father at all.

I will easily admit to crying at the end. The film hit home for me in many ways - having recently lost my own father who was not the easiest person to know. The story is told without any apology for the fantastic - the mythic is portrayed with the same depth and honesty as the realistic, and the acting is so powerful that you are easily swept up in the lives of these characters.

A word about the art direction: the rich colors and expressive sets and costumes envelop the viewer without overwhelming or stealing the focus from the story. In my opinion that is the goal.


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