Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Big Fish

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a fight scene, some images of nudity and a suggestive reference

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe
STAFF WRITER

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens and adults
Genre:
Drama and Comedy
Length:
2 hr. 05 min.
Copyright, Columbia Pictures
Copyright, Columbia Pictures
Copyright, Columbia Pictures
Copyright, Columbia Pictures
Copyright, Columbia Pictures
Copyright, Columbia Pictures
Copyright, Columbia Pictures
Copyright, Columbia Pictures
Copyright, Columbia Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Columbia Pictures
Couple in love. Photo copyrighted
TRUE LOVE—What is true love and how do you know when you have found it? Answer
Sex, Love and Relationships
Learn how to make your love the best it can be. Discover biblical answers to questions about sex, marriage, sexual addictions, and more.

The Occult—What does the Bible say about it? Answer

Starring: Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup, Danny DeVito, Steve Buscemi | Directed by: Tim Burton | Produced by: Richard D. Zanuck and Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks | Written by: John August, based on book by Daniel Wallace. | Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Also see our INTERVIEWS with Big Fish’s cast, producers and writer

As poet Muriel Ruykeyser said, “The world is made up of stories, not atoms,” so, too, “Big Fish” is a fable fused with fiction, not facts, from one man’s life. This whale of a tale entertains with larger-than-life exaggerations, while also inspiring in some of the most meaningful of relationships.

Edward Bloom (Albert Finney AND Ewan McGregor) is such a “Big Fish” that he was played by not one, but two film stars. The basic conflict of the story lies between Edward and his son, Will (Billy Crudup), who believes his dad has never told him anything true his whole life. As a journalist and a soon-to-be father, Will investigates the validity of these stories he has always heard hoping to discover the truth before his father passes away. Most of all, Will just wants to know his dad.

The embellished flashbacks about Edward’s adventures start in his adolescence when he and some friends visit a supposed haunted house occupied by a witch. Edward and his friends each look into the witch’s glass eyeball, believing that when they do, they will see how they’re going to die. When Edward looks into the eye, we are kept from seeing what he sees, which hooks us into this mystery until the end of the film.

The witch is initially presented as overly frightening, but during the brief time we see her, she becomes more of a friendly character to Edward. At one point he mentions that it was from the witch that he got the best counsel. [The Occult—What does the Bible say about it? Answer]

While the idea of a witch character was not appealing, one biblical idea did come to mind in light of Edward’s experience. In Psalm 90:12 Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Edward’s seeing of how he would die, becomes a springboard for how he lives the rest of his life. Because he knew, and was not afraid, it gave him a kind of boldness and faith in how he faced life and any troubles along the way.

The potency of the love story between Edward and Sandra (Jessica Lange) was just as poignant as Edward and Will’s relationship. There are similarities to be drawn here with the Genesis account of Jacob and Rachel and how long he had to endure before he finally gets the girl. More than that, the enduring faithfulness Edward keeps to his wife—even during temptation—is another exemplary quality seen in this romance.

As a poetic depiction of Sandra, the “uncatchable woman,” there are a couple moments showing a woman swimming gracefully underwater. She is seen from her backside, and is obviously not wearing anything at all. Keeping her more mysterious, we only see the one side of her, and don’t really see her face or anything else.

An interesting conversation topic that this film could generate revolves around the idea of telling the truth. As a whole, the film is proposing that Edward has been telling his son truth all the time, but on a deeper level. Edward criticizes his son as one who “gets all of the facts with none of the flavor.” The idea is that Edward is communicating emotional truth, and not factual truth. The producers for this film (see Interviews) go into more detail about their ideas behind this.

Production Designer Dennis Gassner (Academy Award winning “Bugsy”, “The Truman Show”, “Hudsucker Proxy”, “Barton Fink”) made more sets for this film than any other in his career. Computer graphics are employed, but a lot of real elements (such as 10,000 daffodils for one scene) are used more. The adventure/fantasy of it all makes it a good match for Director Tim Burton (“Planet of the Apes”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Batman”) who is also a new father himself.

There is a bit of a crude joke about an affair with the milkman, but most of the language is okay. Finney, McGregor, Lange, and DeVito and the rest give good performances, but the underplaying by Billy Crudup is the strongest of all.

Overall, “Big Fish” is a more family-oriented film that requires a high level of suspension of disbelief, but in the end can be rewarding entertainment.

Violence: Minor | Profanity: Minor | Sex/Nudity: Mild

Year of Release—2003


Viewer Comments
Positive—…we absolutely loved it! We both feel it will be one of Tim Burton’s finest films and a refreshing departure from his normal fare. The acting is top-notch and the flashback scenes are fantastic and so much fun! From a Christian perspective, we really appreciated that when the father’s character was presented with the opportunity to engage in an adulterous affair, he chose not to betray his wedding vows. There wasn’t really any truly objectionable scenes for children, however, I think the plot of the film will probably go over their heads; it is a little bit complex, but well worth seeing. Ewan MacGregor is awesome, as always! This movie was just so much fun!
My Ratings: [Good/5]
—Beth, age 37
Positive—The minor objectionable material is far overshadowed by the great images, the fantastic / fantastical story-telling, and the major emphasis on family and relationships. My 7-year-old son saw it with me and commented, “That was one great story, huh, Dad!,” which is the briefest and best review I’ve seen on the movie. Cinematography, directing, acting, script, and even the music was once-every-decade kind of stuff. And to top it off, it was the most unpredictable and entertaining movie I’ve seen in many years.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
—John Boles, age 50
Positive—…loved it. This is truly a masterpiece. It is a thinking mans movie that reaches to your heart. It has me both thinking how much I love my own dad and the relationship I have with him. Also my own life, the many many faces God has granted me in my own life along its journey. How they have effected me and how I affected them. “Big Fish” is so craftily done it is an art work masterpiece.
My Ratings: [Good/5]
—RockinRon, age 40
Positive—“Big Fish” is an unusual film which is hard to describe. It is odd but original; interesting but slow moving; wholesome but shallow; sentimental but un-enlightening. Sort of a kid’s film that kids won’t get, or an adult film with a childlike bent. Overall, I thought there were a number of positive attributes for the Christian viewer, yet death without salvation is the lasting theme. An interesting fantasy that viewers will probably either really enjoy or have no taste for at all. I enjoyed it. [Better than Average/3]
—Todd Adams, age 36
Neutral—Overall, I thought this was an alright movie. I think that it was deep, so deep that I didn’t really understand it, but I wanted to know more. I think it was a very complex and well-thought out movie, but I do have some objections. There are about two or three scenes of nudity in the film that I found highly objectionable, all of people’s buttocks. In addition, in one scene, a woman “swims” by the car and her curves are very obvious. I would be weary of this film if you would have a problem with these things, as I did. I came away enjoying the plot, but the nude scenes in the movie put a bad taste in my mouth.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Josh Shiver, age 18
Positive—If you’re lucky, you might find a truly great movie once every six or eight months. “Big Fish” is such a fantastic movie, it could tide us over for a few years. …Unlike most movies these days, which feel the bogus need to stuff themselves with explicit content, Big Fish supports Christian values about sex and adultery. When the main character turns down a generous offer by a beautiful woman, I wanted to stand and applaud. There is a scene centered around a witch, whom is not displayed as evil, and a few sexual references… but this is mostly a clean movie… a masterpiece.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—Hope Barnard, age 13
Neutral—The script writer of this movie is trying to say something! I think he’s trying to say that life stinks so you have to spice things up a bit to make reality more tolerable. Anyway, the film is entertaining in its own way but kind of strange as well. Reality mixes in with fiction and the viewer never really knows which is which!
My Ratings: [Good/3]
—Bob C., age 40
Positive—Personally, I’ve always believed that you can have all the facts in the world and still not know the truth. Truth will encompass all facts, but facts are just a blob on the floor. My take on the father is that he LOVED his life so much—his adventures, his family, his friends and acquaintances—that he embellished his stories in an exuberance of joy. His son saw the opposite—that the father hated his life so much he had to make up a lot of it. This movie was excellent on so many levels, it would be hard to limit a full critique, but for a launch pad to thoughts on life, family, the nature of love and truth, it is excellent. We are still discussing it in our family and with our friends.
My Ratings: [Good/5]
—Anastasia M., age 47
Positive—This is truly an excellent film. Tim Burton’s quirky, visually ingenious direction highlights a story that is about much more than giants and dwarf ringmasters, siamese twins and witches; it’s about family and coming to love those who are close to us yet seem so different. The acting is ridiculously good, as both Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor (both foreigners) master the tricky southern accent and both give memorably honest, genuine performances. The message of the film really comes through in a very simple yet poignant fashion. While watching the film, I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather, who is exactly like Albert Finney’s character in the film; always telling wild, exciting stories that he says happened to him, while the rest of the family listens with relish and smiles of disbelief. Billy Crudup’s character reminds me of my father, who rarely saw his dad growing up, only hearing of him in modern myths and legends. The two are completely opposite to this day, and yet have reconciled in way, and I just hope that both will see the film and relate to the positions of one another. I think this film is very relevant to many families and I hope those of you who haven’t seen it will do so at some time.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—Doug Coleman, age 21
Negative—Father has to neglect family and live in his fantasy world because he found real life boring and we’re supposed to applaud him for that? He cared more for his stories than anything else. My parents had some pretty incredible stories to tell me (they lived through the Killing Field; they would have to), but they don’t forsake the present or throw away a chance to discover who their kids were to go on living on past accomplishments and/or heartbreaks. The father wasted not just a chance for the son to discover who he (father) was but also a chance to get to know his son.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/2]
—Lika, age 24
Negative—Big Fish did not live up to most of the positive comments on this board, in my opinion. There was cursing and offensive talk (see Eph 4:29). And there was nudity that could have easily been avoided. As such, I will not let my kids (all under 10 years old) watch this movie. Conversely, there was a redeeming message in terms of the marriage commitment lived out by the somewhat dysfunctional father. Overall, the movie was slow and somewhat depressing; however, the special effects were very impressive. This is not a Christian movie per se, and there is no reference to salvation or Jesus Christ. However, it was an attempt by Hollywood to create a morally upright product. In short, my life would not be any different had I never seen this movie.
My Ratings: [Average/3]
—Michael Angelovic, age 36
Positive—I found this to be a very good movie. Highly entertaining. I have noticed the only people that gave this movie a less than positive review are the ones who did not understand the movie. Tim Burton does it again.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
—Michael, age 28

Comments from young people
Positive—I loved this movie. It was the most fun movie of the year. I loved when the stories were acted out because Ewan McGregor put so much personality and likability into the character. My dad tells us stories about when he was younger, and so I thought the basic storyline was close to home. I thought it was way more Christian-esqe than about every other movie I’ve seen this year, with the exception of maybe two or three. A couple of nude scenes, which, I didn’t think were terribly explicit, were it. I loved it and can’t wait for it to come to video!
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
—Amanda, age 17
Positive—The objectionable parts of this film are the nudity (where Edward’s in the water after he visits Spectre and there’s a lot when there’s the flood outside his car), there was a little bad language and 1 comment about people driving back from church. Other than that, the movie is very good! Hey, it made my whole family cry! A very deep, moving and interesting fantasy-drama, with a little comedy thrown in for flavor. The special effects are amazing! Make sure you have plenty of tissues for this one! I think you could watch it with your family if your kids are a little older, but make sure to flick passed those nude moments.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Noelle, age 16
Positive—…one of the most brilliant films I’ve seen this year. It dealt with the subject of a son named Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) being skeptical of his dying father, Edward Bloom’s (Albert Finney) stories. The movie was a series of flashbacks to Edward Bloom when he was a young man (Ewen McGregor). The movie is humorous in a subtle way and remains fairly neutral when it comes to religion. I can’t remember any specific uses of God’s name in vain. There is a partial nude scene and some tame fight scenes. Parts of the movie would be scary for a young child, so I would recommend it for any child above 10.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—Michael, age 16
Positive—I must admit, though several of my friends regarded this movie as an unadulterated waste of time, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It portrays one man`s desire to truly understand his father, inciting him to dig deeper into the past until he realizes that his father`s `Big Fish` stories are, in fact, based on reality. His father is really larger than life.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
—Ctefanie Brohmer, age 16