Big Fish (2003)

“In telling the story of my father’s life, it’s impossible to separate fact from fiction, the man from the myth.” Thus William (Billy Crudup) introduces his father Edward Bloom (Albert Finney/Ewan McGregor), and thus we come to know him. But although William’s voice ushers us into the narrative, it is through Edward’s eyes that we see his life story unfold. Amid the last stages of cancer, the old man remains unable to forsake the storyteller in him; and, to his son’s consternation, regales William’s wife (Marion Cotillard) with gallant adventures of his youth—when time literally stopped as he first glimpsed his wife Sandra (Jessica Lange/Alison Lohman) and when as a boy he divined his death in a witch’s glass eye. Frustrated by his father’s fictionalizations, William resolves to uncover the facts through Jenny (Helena Bonham Carter) and for the first time recognizes the man behind the tales.

I don’t believe enough people realize the importance of having a good movie trailer—and the repercussions of releasing a bad one. Conventional blunders include either selling the film too short, as in Hugo, or revealing too much, as in Big Fish. While undeniably appealing, the difficulty with promotions that promise “an adventure as big as life itself” is that it places a heavy burden on the movie, raising expectations and robbing it of the chance to captivate audiences unawares. Had I not previously seen the trailer, I might have been more fascinated by Big Fish, but as it stands, the movie only fulfilled my expectations, without exceeding it—which is a sad thing to say about a film that grants so much import to the imagination.

Although its trailer cheated me out of (what seemed like) an incredible visual experience, the film did have other merits. The last scene between father and son is strikingly poignant. At that moment, William finally, finally comes to an understanding of Edward—why he embellished his stories, why he told them again and again, why he resolutely insisted on the impossible. At its core, Big Fish tells of the necessity of fiction to overcome the banality of life. Despite its annoying faithfulness to family drama tropes, it is overall a moving chronicle of one man’s desire to be bigger than life, something that mere biographical existence fails to offer.

We were like strangers who knew each other very well.

His birth would set the pace for his unlikely life, no longer than most men, but larger.

‘You don’t even know me.’ ‘I have the rest of my life to find out.’

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