I expected to digest this and figure something out in the morning. Only, it all came together in the last ten minutes, and I’m instead compelled to get it out now, before it loses the immediacy. Appreciate that, because I could be listening to the last 15 minutes of Loveline instead, which was my original plan.
A synopsis will have you believe that Big Fish is about tall tales. In the last lines of the film, the scriptwriter (or it could be the author, but I haven’t read the book to know) will have you believe it’s about how stories provide immortality. Neither of these is correct. (Well, of course they are correct, but I get to say what goes here, and in this case, it’s all about me.)
Plotwise, the issue is that William Bloom is estranged from his father, Edward. After a few years of this, his father is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and William returns home to see him again and to try to know him better than he ever did as a kid or young adult. The rest of the movie combines his attempts with the stories his father has always told about his life, that William is trying to get through in search of the real truth. And that’s pretty much it. It’s better than that, of course, because the stories are both fun and beautifully filmed.
The movie is actually about that estrangement, though, and the attempts to heal it. Now, sure, I’m biased. I nearly lost my mother to cancer a year ago. I don’t know how near it was, but it felt very near at the time, and she’ll never be free of the monthly checkups to see if it has come back. And that’s what it took for me to work out in my head the differences I’ve had with my parents since I was a teenager.
The lesson Will learns is to get past all the stupid shit that has kept them apart and accept his father for who he is, who he always said he was, because all of the stories are true, even the lies. It’s a metaphor to all the estranged kids and parents out there. The stuff Will had to get past was all outrageously silly, but that’s the point. This is a caricature, but the truth is, it’s all stupid shit, and none of it’s worth giving up that part of your life. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
So, here endeth the preaching. If you like the way Tim Burton films things, he did it again here. And it meshes very with stylistically with the tall tales, which makes sense; pretty much every movie he’s made has been along this theme. It was just never so explicit. If you like tall tales, then you should also see it, or better yet, read the book. Those kinds of things always work better told than filmed, even if Burton is good at it. If you’re avoiding your parents, then rent it and watch it now, if not sooner. Sure, most people have really good reasons why they’re staying away, and sometimes it’s valid and necessary, rather than the stupid shit I sweepingly generalized just now.
Watch it anyway, just in case.