Big Fish

Not Recommended. This is a story that showcases the worst that postmodernism has to offer. It’s a story about a son, Will Bloom, played by Billy Crudup, who is trying to establish a relationship with his dying father, Ed Bloom, played by Albert Finney. Turns out the father has been a teller of tall tales his entire life, so much so that the son feels he does not know who his father really is. Everything from his father’s birth, to his courtship and marriage and everything in between is a fanciful magical fantasy story that hides the real life of its hero, Ed. Will complains that Ed is always telling stories, the same ones over and over again, and he doesn’t know who his father really is because he can’t tell the fact from the fiction. We are treated to these fantasies in a playful and light-heartedly signature Tim Burton way: A huge catfish the size of a man (The notion of “big fish” is the cliché notion of fishing tales), a giant, a circus with a werewolf ringleader, a mysterious happy town called Spectre and many other tales fill the story with magical imagery. All the while, Will is angry because he considers his father isn’t being genuine telling lies, isn’t being true to who he was and reveals his own unhappiness with his real life. His father was bored with the real people in his life, and had to live in his fantasy world because of it. Ed yells back that he has been nothing but truly himself his entire life. This struggle goes back and forth the entire film in a rather touching way until the end when Ed dies and finally Will tells his dad the story of his dad’s own death as a magical tale of taking him to the river and dumping him in until he turns into a huge catfish and swims away. And now Will understands his dad somehow and embraces who he was and how his stories were “true” to him. He accepts the fantasy tales and even recounts them to his own son. He says at the end, “A man tells his stories so many times, he becomes his stories. In that way, he becomes immortal.” Because the character arc of the protagonist’s worldview is one from realism to postmodern storytelling, we can only conclude that this theme is not a cautionary warning (that one I could whole-heartedly accept) but a proscriptive ethic (which is morally repugnant). Well, though this belief in story over truth is the “Precious” of history revisionists and other multicultural postmodern Gollums, there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. Yes, we have a tendency to embellish and this is a danger. But we do not become our stories, no matter how convinced people are about lies. A story making a hero out of Hitler does make Hitler a true hero if it is told often enough. The goal should be to find the truth, what really happened, just like Will originally intended. Pity, he gave in and failed as a hero. BTW, This is precisely the claim that has been made against the metanarrative of Christianity for years, namely that Christians just told the stories about Jesus and kept changing them until Jesus “became” this Son of God, God incarnate, immortal. As if we created who he was to fit our needs. This is a fantasy speculation itself that has no factual support. So Bible critics think that if they tell their false stories about the Bible long enough they’ll become immortal too. It’s funny that that which has been used to discredit Christianity in the past is now being held up by postmodernists as legitimate “truth.” Truth is no longer important, just story. It doesn’t matter if the stories (or mythologies) are true, what matters is the meaning it gives our lives. Well, hey if it ain’t true, the meaning is fraudulent. Saying one thing and doing another, we used to call “hypocrisy” Now it’s a virtue? I think not. Look, let’s get this straight, folks. If its okay to tell lies big enough and often enough until we believe them, then Joseph Goebbels was right. And so was Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy and Stalin and Hitler and on and on. Serial killers, child molesters and genocidal megalomaniacs all tell their lies big enough and often enough to believe them, to justify their atrocities, and become immortal, but that does not make it acceptable. It’s true that human nature embellishes and exaggerates, and that’s why this should have been a cautionary tale of how we fail to know one another if we do not know our real choices and experiences. The fact is, at the end of the story, the son was a total failure and never did know his father truly because his father never revealed his true experiences and choices in life. The story rang hollow and empty of human connection because of this. BTW, this does not apply to all fiction, but only to fiction that is portrayed as non-fiction. Big difference. We understand fiction to be parabolic or metaphoric. It is just that simple little annoying absolute dictum of our Creator, “Thou shalt not lie,” that delineates between acceptable fiction and unacceptable fiction dressed up as non-fiction. Let’s keep the facts straight, okay?
For more on postmodern movies see my book, Hollywood Worldviews or my article: Postmodern Movies.