Lies of our times

Tim Burton’s father-son melodrama blurs fantasy and falsehood.

Keri Carlson

A story based on solid facts can still fail to capture the truth. You may nail all of the five Ws but those do not necessarily capture the heart and passion of the characters. The story loses its romanticism and wonder.

How to tell the right story is the theme behind Tim Burton’s “Big Fish.”

The movie opens with Edward Bloom (played by Albert Finney as an old man and Ewan McGregor as the younger version) explaining to his son Will why he was not there for his birth with a tall tale about a monstrous, magical catfish. The story is repeatedly told throughout the stages of Will’s (Billy Crudup) life. When his father once again recites the fish story at Will’s wedding, Will leaves in disgust and the two stop speaking to one another. Will feels all he knows of his father is lies. He has no idea who the real Edward Bloom is.

But when Will receives a call from his mother (Jessica Lange) that Edward is dying, he heads home to try and repair their relationship – a cause now more important than ever to Will as he expects a child of his own very shortly. Patching the hole in their relationship to Will means finding the truth about his father – distinguishing actual events with those stretched beyond reality.

The movie then sets out on a “Wizard of Oz” adventure through the story of Edward Bloom’s life. And the further down the road Edward gets the more crazy things he encounters – everything from a witch to a giant to singing conjoined twins to a great flood. Here is where Burton’s mastery of eye-popping scenes really comes into play.

One scene at the circus is especially breathtaking. Edward claims when you see the love of your life, time stands still. And as he first spots his wife Sandra (Alison Lohman) the circus scene freezes as Edward steps through suspended hula hoops, around twisted acrobats and brushes aside thrown popcorn to stand face to face with Sandra. Burton’s cinematic trickery makes these tall tales spectacular.

When the time comes for Edward’s final story, his son and the audience are convinced that pointing out the fact that Edward did not walk through a haunted woods, foresee death or fight a werewolf, is arbitrary. Edward’s tall tales may be extreme stretches of the truth but they capture his spirit, his humor and his overall character. His stories captured the real Edward Bloom, who was larger than life. In his case, the straight facts would in no way do this man or his life justice. In the art of story telling, stretching the truth is not lying, for it uncovers life’s wondrousness and what makes it truly special.