Watching “Big Fish”

I’m a big Tim Burton fan (though I will readily admit when he’s done some screwy stuff, like Planet of the Apes), but I see Big Fish as his masterpiece. And it hits home for me.

Now, in one regard, there is the question of my own relationship with my father, which is strained (to say the least). As I’ve been doing research into my writing, and I look into father-son relationships in literature, myth, religion, etc., there is a clear need for around 25–35 for a son to come to terms with his father’s interaction in his life. I’ve actually observed this in my co-workers and friends, though it’s not really something I’ve noticed before this time last year or so.

Like the mother/daughter relationship, the father/son also has a massive impact on both the father and the son and what each of them sees of themselves in the other.

Big Fish, while striving to entertain the audience, attempts to bring the father/son discourse into the light, mostly from the son’s point-of-view. I think it does it well. And, as we’re dealing with my grandfather’s (my maternal grandfather, by the way, not my father’s late father) terminal cancer, I find solace in something like this.

The story is simple: A son, about 30 or 35 (as the son is facing starting his own family), is trying to come to terms with the relationship he had with his father (a man who enjoyed telling tall tales of his own experiences to his son), who is now dying from cancer. The son believes he needs to find out who his “real” father is before the old man dies. The father makes the point that he has always been real and has never done anything to be anything other than real to his son.

That’s a massive point in a father/son relationship. Even a father-figure/son relationship, like the one I had with my grandfather (and, to an extent, still have… the scene with Edward Bloom drinking the Ensure is reminiscent of me trying to get my grandfather to eat), is one that comes into question. I think those of us who had fathers in absentia and needed to look to surrogate fathers ask ourselves the questions even further than the sons who are just pondering their relationships with their fathers. 

So, as I watch Big Fish, I see both my relationships with my father and my grandfather reflected. They are two different relationships, and they manifest themselves in two different ways, but they are both similar as the son tries to come to terms with his father and/or surrogate father’s life and how they passed lessons to the son.

I’m rambling, I know. Most of this is just for me to get a few thoughts down.

Needless to say, I find Big Fish a moving experience, and one that brings some important questions to the relationship sons have with their fathers and surrogate fathers. It’s a difficult ending to deal with, but it’s still fulfilling and gratifying to think of all of your family and friends coming to wish you a happy voyage, as opposed to collapsing in a sobbing, grieving heap on the floor…

AN amazing film with a lot to think about.