Searching for a heart-warming film to watch on a November evening in an attempt to combat mid-term blues, I came across Big Fish, a childhood classic. I did remember it was entertaining and uplifting, but having seen it such a while ago, I had forgotten some twists and details of the storyline. I checked if it has stood the test of time – and I was not disappointed.
Set in two different timelines, the film tells a story of Will who reunites with his terminally ill father, Edward, and has one last chance to hear what the real story of his early days was. Blinded for so many years by surreal tales, Will is desperate to prove that his father made them up and in fact lived an ordinary life.
Edward’s stories are indeed bizarre, in true Tim Burton style – it is a weird gallery of giants, witches, circus artists, presented with a good deal of slapstick humour (which my 8-year-old self probably found more hilarious). That said, one could expect something explicitly darker from the director of Corpse Bride and Sweeney Todd, while this is (for the most part) a sweet, feel-good film. Its seriousness, however, is hidden in plain sight. After all, Big Fish tackles resolving a family conflict at the end of life and contains some very poignant scenes. Will, once convinced his father is nothing more than an egocentric mythomaniac, gradually discovers that when real life gets daunting, these extraordinary tales are what let you escape. They are also what is left once you are gone.
What I forgot since I last watched it, is the fact that young Edward Bloom is portrayed by Ewan McGregor, and that he is by far one of the most likeable and admirable characters you will ever see on the screen. From the supporting line-up of Hollywood stars, Steve Buscemi’s role as a frustrated poet is the most absurd – it goes well beyond a stereotypical fairy tale character.
If you need an extra push to get you through to Christmas or just an excuse for a study break, watch Big Fish. 15 years after its release in the UK it is as touching and peculiar as ever.