Monday, October 12, 2015


Your fish has the size of the story you tell


The film is well done and we can see here and there some images that are recalling elements of other films by Tim Burton, like an image resembling the basic image of The Nightmare Before Christmas. There are many more, well, at least a few. That’s the sign of a man who wants to build a complete set of films, that is able to connect his films with some bonds and strings to make them a whole and not just isolated titbits. But more than that the film also uses allusions to works that are not Tim Burton’s. We definitely cannot miss the allusion to Twilight Zone in that village lost in the forest and we automatically think it must be a village beyond life, hence the hero must have died along the way, maybe with the jumping spiders. We will only know it is not the case at the very end of the film.

The first problem touched by Tim Burton is the absence of relation between a son and a father because the father always told stories and after the happy age of six or seven children know what a story is and that it is not true. But the father was always telling his own story of what had happened to him though it was wrapped up in such a bazaar of useless things, useless because unreal but essential because the father lived in them, such a bazaar of strange things that the son came to the point of being embarrassed by the stories because he could not believe in them and was ashamed by his father telling what he considered lies. They were lies for him and in fact they were stories for everyone else and the father was a story teller, a man who was able to provide others with dreams. It took the son quite a few days visiting his father after several years of complete non-communication, when the father was in the process of dying, for the son to understand that in fact the father was happy and made people around him happy, including himself and his son, by telling these “false stories” that were true to ,his heart, to his mind, to his being himself even if it is in a field of daffodils, thousands and thousands of daffodils, which is the purest lie you can imagine, especially on the quadrangle of a college campus.

The lesson for the son is that he was embarrassed because HE was seeing these stories as lies, because he considered he could not know his father, reach out to him.

But the lesson about the father is a lot more interesting. It is a lesson for everyone. It is what Tim Burton is doing all the time to us. The stories are absolutely true, including in the impossible elements because they reveal the man who is telling them. Tim Burton is his films and we have the right to consider that his films are transparent loincloths of various colors that reveal all that should be hidden, at least in public. The stories a man, a film maker is telling are the blood and flesh and some other fluids of the man and the film maker.

This is a crazy idea but a beautiful consideration. One cannot tell one’s private activities in bed, in the bedroom or wherever. But One can always tell some stories about some events that happened to him that are a metaphor of his most intimate and perverse and masochistic and sadistic impulses he cannot satisfy in any way. Here the Circus master is a werewolf. How silly, but how true about a man who is an exploiter of people right down and through till he gets to their life itself and who can set up the death of a small circus person so that it becomes a reason for the circus to be famous or infamous. What about putting your head in a lion’s mouth? Courage? For sure. But the master is going to save some money if the lion bites because he has insurance and the circus will be more than famous. So a werewolf or not?

The son will understand that so well in the last minutes of his father’s life that he will tell his father what will happen after his death but just five minutes before, as a story of his escape and rejuvenation, renascence, salvation: in the story he will become the legendary big fish he has never been able to catch. A man is the stories he tells. A woman maybe too, but Tim Burton hardly deals with women, hardly knows women, hardly dares to say anything about women, or so little, so far at least.

That’s what makes this film touching and sensitive but is that a philosophy, a catharsis, a sublimation of one’s evil or is it a lie, a pure lie, an illusion thrown to the masses to be their new opium?

I will not choose and be sure I consider opium as a respectable means to meditate on one’s alienation by hooking up on this addictive habit. It is a real choice and so many people get into alcoholism or drug addiction just not to have to choose between sublimation and meditation, catharsis and lying.


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life is nothing but invisible marvellous wonders, November 9, 2008
This review is from: Big Fish (DVD)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Byon 9 November 2008

Olliergues, France
9 November 2008
We are all the mythical fish of some one else

It turns all around the father and his son and their difficult relation. It was perfect as long as the son believed in the stories the father was telling him all the time, that is to say as long as Father Christmas really was a childhood hero. But older age came and those stories sounded all silly, even sillier and sillier and they led to a complete break between the two, the father and the son, till the father came to the point of departing from this life. The son and his wife came back and he was confronted to the stories again. But one day when he was sorting out some old documents of his father's for his mother he came across a strange deed that showed the existence of an estate under the name of his father. And he went there and discovered that this estate had some tremendous reality and that the witch of the old stories was the young girl from some other old story who had become a piano teacher and had benefited from this estate. She sure was in love with the father but the father was faithful to his wife. 

The son then discovers that all the stories were just embellished true stories. The Siamese Chinese twin women were in fact true Chinese twins though not Siamese. And an epiphany takes place. When the son was keeping watch over his father at the hospital one night, the father called him and the son understood the father was asking him to tell him a bedside story to put him to sleep, the big sleep. And the son is inspired to tell him his own version of his father's embellished stories and that story enables the father to go to his long sleep with all the characters of his own stories. And when the funeral arrives, the son, his wife and his mother can only see with their own eyes that all the characters of these stories are true people. But in the meantime some miracle had happened. The son on the command from his dying father had taken him away from the hospital to the river where he had put him back into the water, as if the father was only a captured big fish living among the humans and waiting for this last minute to recapture his true nature and swim away down the river where he had come from. 

That's when the film could have turned grotesque or just funny strange. But Tim Burton is a genius of the paranormal and how to make it look so natural that we are obliged to believe in it and to go back to our infancy, when we believed wonderful stories full of unbelievable wonders that we could only believe in deep in our hearts because they were so beautiful. Tim Burton is a magician that mesmerizes us with surrealistic images.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines

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