And Scene takes a look at scenes small and large, how they work to evoke certain responses and how they have left lasting impressions within the audience
Next month, I’ll turn 25, young by most standards and hopefully with many more years ahead of me. In that time, there are a handful of things I’d like to experience, some relatively easy (visit every Disney theme park on the planet) and some a little more far-fetched (win an Academy Award and in the process break Damien Chazelle’s title as youngest director ever). It’s a bucket list that has far too many boxes left to be ticked but scanning my mental list, I am stricken with how little control I actually have in accomplishing these feats with one box, in particular, standing out: Find my Big Fish moment.
Big Fish is the 2003 fantasy film from Tim Burton, a woefully underrated movie in his filmography that is a departure from Burton’s usual gothic aesthetic. Big Fish features many of Burton’s signatures like outlandish character design, imaginative settings and surreal humor capturing the elements of fantasy that Burton thrives in. A retrospective tale on one man’s life, Big Fish sees a father Ed Bloom (Albert Finney in his senior years and Ewan McGregor in the flashbacks to his youth) tell the stories of his past while his son Will (Billy Crudup) has to discern what is fact and what is fiction. See, many of Ed’s stories have fantastical elements including meeting a witch who could tell your future, a giant, and a circus ringmaster who moonlights as a wild animal but there is one moment amongst all of Ed’s tall tales that carry a degree of plausibility1Okay, plausible might be a strong word but more on this later, the moment I have dubbed “The Big Fish Moment”. Take a look:
” They say that when you meet the love of your life, Time Stops”
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge how cheesy and cliche that statement and the above scene as a whole is. Okay, acknowledged, Moving on.
This scene is significant not just because I am a hopeless romantic holding a deep seeded desire to recreate this or at least a version of this moment in real life but it also showcases Tim Burton’s knack for inserting these small moments of magic even his darkest, most Burton-esque films.2Edward Scissorhands and the scene where Winona Ryder dances in the falling snow being a prime example of this I’m not sure if emphasizing these moments, believing in the small shimmer of hope that they exist in real life makes me positively quixotic or negatively delusional, the truth is probably somewhere in between.
As Big Fish progresses, we learn Ed Bloom has a tendency to stretch the truth of his life, his fantastic tales a product of trying to liven up what amounts to a pretty humdrum lifetime. Because these stories engage people they serve to create connections where there might not be any commonality in the first place. This is the case between Ed and Will, allowing for a father to strengthen his bond with his young son where there wasn’t much of one before. Of course, these same stories are what contribute to the frictions between the pair later in life that drives much of the conflict in Big Fish but in his youth Will did believe in all his father’s tall tales idolizing him as a sort of folk hero as a result.
Coming to the twilight moments of his life, Ed cherishes these stories for their ability provide meaning, even though his family can now recite them by heart, they still provide a collective sort of energy that unifies them. As Will grows weary of the fictitious nature of his dad’s life, he ultimately goes in search of the truth himself. What he finds at the end of his journey is that the truth is much less appealing than the story told by his father not because the truth makes the elder Bloom any less noble just that it makes him ordinary.
A cynic would point out that Big Fish feeds narcissism, a task of self-inflating one’s ego to be far more significant than it actually is, Big Fish suggests not that we should be ignorant of the impracticality of true love at first sight but rather open to the possibility of magic happening or else we are left living dull simplistic lives resigned to our base biological function to survive long enough to reproduce.
The old adage to love is “when you know, you know” I think this is true but because falling in love (or even being in any sort of relationship as a whole) requires a degree of vulnerability, to open yourself up to another person exposing one’s weaknesses, fears, and insecurities. It requires a level of trust that can’t be gained from first interaction so we withhold our feelings until there is confirmation that this is more than just attraction and also because we don’t want to scare off the other person from the outset (but it worked for Ted Mosby in the end so what do I know?). It becomes a game of chicken to see who can say it first3a concept that has been a staple of sitcoms for ages where all you can really hope for is that when you do say those fabled three words, it’s not too soon or too late and that those sentiments are reciprocated.
The scene/love story that Big Fish presents are far more compelling than most true to life versions real life has to offer so which one would you rather have? From a pragmatic perspective, is it a hopeless fantasy made for equally hopeless romantics? Maybe, but I’m here doing just that, hoping for love like the movies…waiting for my Big Fish moment.