Big Fish – a movie review

It’s a rare occasion when a movie reduces me to tears, but Big Fish has the ability to reduce me to a blubbering heap every time.

Big Fish tells the life story of Edward Bloom through a series of flashbacks and retrospectives. As Edward nears the end of his life, his estranged son comes home and their tensions resume as it becomes clear Edward has invented many of the childhood stories he told his son William.

The flashbacks show the fantastical stories Edward told during his life, of road trips with giants, the freaky town of Spectre and its shoeless inhabitants, of how he worked in a circus for three years to find out the identity of the woman he was going to marry.

William remains skeptical right to the very end, even surmising that his father was having an affair with a woman from Spectre. It’s not until Edward is finally on his deathbed that he realizes the value of his father’s stories.

The Acting

Ewan McGregor plays the younger Edward Bloom, hamming it up in a perfect 50’s hero style through each of his adventures. Yes. The Scottish actor comes across as the perfect clean-cut all-American teenager – a young Southern gentleman with impeccable manners and an ambition to be a big fish in a bigger pond. Albert Finney plays the present-day Edward, and pulls off the role of a father in his last days extremely well. Whereas the younger Edward is slightly too perfect (as you would expect), Finney portrays the older Edward with more frailty but more humanity.

The (big name) supporting cast are equally flawless, but the strength of the movie comes from the story. Director Tim Burton manages to juxtapose flashbacks with present-day tensions and the decline of Edward Bloom. The over the top storytelling continues throughout the movie and the real weepy part comes in as William Bloom talks to his father on his death bed and is persuaded to make up the story of his fathers death.

As he tells the story, he describes bringing Edward to the lake for the last time and all the characters from his stories are congregated at the waters edge. As you see the characters lined up in tribute, if you’re not crying, there’s something wrong with you! The twist at the end is that William meets many of his fathers ‘characters’ at the funeral, which shows him that there was an element of truth to some of his father’s stories.

Final Opinion

Any movie that makes you shed tears is a quality movie in my opinion. I’ve seen Big Fish twice now, and both times I’ve broken down at the end. The story and characters completely draw you in and the death of Edward at the end is so emotional. You feel relieved that William redeems himself at the end and embraces his fathers fictions.

This has got to be one of my favourite movies of all time.

3 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I met a young man recently who told me he was very emotional at the end of Big Fish, the same scene that moves you to tears moved him as well. I think this is a film that really resonates for men in the context of the complexity in father/son relationships. I love Big Fish, and I am a major Albert Finney admirer, yet I was not in tears at the end of the film. I was moved, but, as a woman, I think I did not relate on the same level as a man may have. Big Fish is a film that has so many layers and textures that you can watch it over and over and come away with different insights, but I think it’s really cool that Tim Burton has made one of those rare films that speaks to men’s hearts at a core level.

    1. Gerard McGarry

      I actually wrote this review quite some time ago, and I think you’re completely right about the movie speaking to men’s hearts. My father recently died, and I remember watching the movie with him once, imagining what would happen if he was the one in the hospital bed.

      Well, that day came, and strangely enough, the sorrow I felt watching Big fish was only a taste of how I felt when my own father died. A part of me is dreading re-watching the film (which I really want to do) because I know it’ll bring up a lot of emotions. I think the scene where all his old friends arrived at the funeral will be especially poignant, because there is something sad but beautiful in people whose lives you’ve touched showing up to pay their last respects.

      1. Anonymous

        Losing a parent is devastating, no matter when or how it happens. Your reply reminds me of an interview I read that Albert Finney did around the time the movie came out. In it he mentioned that his own son, Simon Finney, found the movie distressing because it made him face the reality of his father’s mortality. It also reminds me of a more recent interview I read from Michael Caine about his last film in which he played an elderly man dying with dementia. Michael said his wife became so upset watching the film that she was sobbing, and he had to reassure her it was only a movie. It’s interesting how some actors play their roles so well that even people who are personally close to them suspend their disbelief… But I guess that’s a different subject. Btw, Sorry for your loss.

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