Wednesday, November 26, 2003


I really liked this new film coming from Sony/Columbia Pictures. Based on the book by Daniel Wallace, the adaptation was helmed by Tim Burton and features a daunting school of actors including Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Billy Crudup, Danny DeVito, Helena Bonham Carter and Steve Buscemi -- and what's the name of that French actress who steals every scene she is in?...oh yeah, Marion Cotillard.

This film is unlike anything else you have seen lately. It is a drama with strong fantasy and comedic elements - hearkening back to Forest Gump in tone and style. Screenwriter John August serves up a brilliantly crafted tale here that utilizes every fish in the cinematic sea to deliver a good story and some profound themes. Big Fish combines real poetic imagery, composition, the juxtaposition of images(editing, for short) where most movies barely even nod at these potentials. Burton does a great job reeling in humane and "better than real" performances from his talented ensemble.

The structure of the film made me laugh - it whizzes through time and space back and forth, matching up characters from their youth to their dotage - and never leaving the audience in the story's wake.

The film has several worthy themes - in the way that "great art is about everything." Primarily, for the filmmakers, Big Fish is about the essential journey toward acceptance and reconciliation between fathers and sons. There is also a strong underlying premise about the role of stories in human life - why we love them, and why we need them - that I found lovely. Thirdly, the film offers a whimsical vision of what I can only call HOLY matrimony - which twenty-something, hip and stunning, actress Alison Lohman referred to as, "Well, it's what we all really want, isn't it?"

Big Fish is entertaining, delightful, sad, provocative, fresh and well-crafted. After the screening, a group of us writer types sat in the car happily unraveling the metaphors and revisiting some of the films quirky and cool moments. Big Fish is the kind of film you bring your thoughtful friends too, so you can grow together through it and after it.

However, I am also aware that the people who should love it most -- you faith-n-family oriented types - will probably attack the film for two moments of fleeting nudity, and a couple other short flashes of humanity being crassly human. It will be very sad if you miss all that this film offers because of these things. I will now attempt to dissuade some of you from staying away, attacking and vilifying this work of art because of these two things.

The nudity... The central images in the film are "fishness" and "water." The screenwriter assured us at the press junket that the film's hero, "is, after all, a fish." I don't quite understand the metaphor, but I do have a sense that it is a rich image just waiting for me to apply my brain to unravel. So, there is a scene in which the mythical giant fish who lives in the river, manifests itself to the hero as a beautiful woman. As an incarnation of an aquatic lifeform, she appears unclothed, because, you know, fish don't wear clothes...becuase, well, they aren't aware of immodesty...because they are, well, part of the natural world and in some sense innocent....So, the fish-woman is revealed from the back, so we see nothing but a bare bottom, but she is unclothed.

The sequences are fleeting, haunting (Act Oners alert!) and lovely, and reminded me of Disney's Fantasia fairies, who were similarly naked, but not at all erotic. Not all nudity is objectification. Ref. Michaelangelo's David. Ref. the Sistine Chapel. Ref. Wit. Ref. ...OH FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE! Do we really need to make the case that the human body is beautiful and that great art has always celebrated it?

Puritanism is not holy. It is as sick as prurientism!

I am making a lot of this, because some of you will. Some of the Christian magazine writers represented at the press-junket admitted to me sadly, "I'd love to recommend this film. Unfortunately, my constituents will scalp me if I praise a movie with nudity in it."

Sigh. (Say it with me)


So, for those with eyes to see, I recommend Big Fish as a provocative, well-crafted, entertaining cinematic story. For those with no tolerance for genuine art - and I mean the ambiguity here, probably even more than the nudity - I particularly recommend this film.

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