I know, I have a whole other section for reviews. But this film made an impression on me, although I didn’t quite realise it to begin with. The terrible thing about hype is that your expectation very rarely corresponds to the reality of what the film (book, album, concert, jam) actually involves. Big Fish; Fantasy adenture, tall tales, Ewan McGregor; I expected something between Princess Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas. And I’m not sure I didn’t get it.
Tim Burton’s always been criticised to me as a director who can’t tell a story. I don’t quite agree with the view; Batman, Nightmare before Christmas, Betelgeuse, they all told stories well enough (even if Planet of the Apes didn’t), if they sacrificed storytelling for atmosphere. I expected something similar again; but Big Fish is a very different kettle of, um, fish.
It’s not that it lacks atmosphere, but structurally, the film did bewilder me at first. A succession of Tall Tales, litle evidence of what was reality and what was fantasy and, to my confused eye, no immediate sense of a progressing narrative. Although the Tall Tales where chronological, they still seemed to lack cohesion.
Gradually, though, and it took longer for it to click in my mind than the watching of the film involved, was that the stories which consume screen time, the stories which identified the primary protagonist, were irrelevant to the plot. The ‘immortality’ that the poster advertises has nothing to do with the principal character’s aims, hopes or desires. His single goal, the single thing which defined him, was a desire to be happy. And here the film holds the same black edge that’s come to be associated with Mr Burton: despite being an absolutely lovely man, our protagonist has managed to alienate his son, lived far away from his wife and is dying. Life isn’t even easy for the good; and perhaps here’s where the stories, the tall tales that form the film, make sense as the fulfillment of Ed Bloom’s need.
It’s a beautiful tragedy, beautifully told. A friend asked me if I cried at the end. I didn’t. I was too perplexed, too confused, too muddled by my own expectations. This is a simple, but wondrous film. I didn’t fully understand why it stuck in my head so long after I’d seen it. I think I do now.