Lies My Father Told Me
For all of its inspired side trips down Imagination Lane, Big Fish is ultimately about one thing: the relationship between a son about to become a father and a father about to become a ghost. The movie is being marketed as one more Tim Burton fantasia, with its luminescent teaser-trailer images of shaggy giants, sideshow attractions, and small towns where the concrete has been replaced by freshly mowed grass. Its main character is an incorrigible, inscrutable man who could exist only in fairy tales -- in this case, the young Edward, played by a Southern-fried Ewan McGregor. Burton, a hired gun on this project, signs his name to every scene; Big Fish could have been made by no one else.
Which makes the scenes between the older Edward (Albert Finney) and his son Will (Billy Crudup) -- a journalist seeking just the facts from a father prone to spectacular fictions -- almost revelatory. For the first time, Burton seems comfortable walking around the real world; he doesn't frame the ordinary between quotation marks or populate suburbia with grotesqueries and freaks.
Many of Edward's tall tales are like bad jokes; after a while, it becomes clear he's told these stories not to impress his son but to keep himself interested in his own life.
Like all sons who see their fathers first as larger-than-life heroes only to watch them shrink into fragile old men, Will can no longer be entertained. He's a soon-to-be-father with no role model, save for the liar lying in bed. Will believes the truth will eradicate the distance between them, so he's almost delighted to find a hint that his father once had an affair with a woman in Spectre; at least, at last, something tangible about his old man. But even then, there's a truth and the truth, and rarely do they ever quite meet.
Burton, punctuating a man's life with outlandish and beautiful detours, is saying essentially: Life is the joy you remember, not the truths you can recite. And sometimes, death can provide a very happy ending.
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