Big Fish (Tim Burton, 2003) is about the importance of imaginative storytelling, and how the quality of one’s storytelling actually correlates to the quality of one’s life. In doing so, it negates the importance of “fiction” or “non-fiction,” “fact” or “non-fact,” and replaces it with subjective interpretation. In other words, whether what a person says is a truth (fact) or a lie (fiction) is totally irrelevant, because the very spouting of said words more accurately reflects the person and how he views the world, than whether those words are legitimately true or not.
Take any work of fiction, for example. Say, James Cameron’s Avatar. By all means, none of what happens in that movie is literally “true” or “real.” It’s all made up. It’s a lie. It’s a fiction. It’s a story. But putting that aside (because it’s irrelevant), what you actually get from that subtext is a crystal clear understanding of what James Cameron’s perspective on the real, actual world is. That, regardless of what happened to him in his real life, the aggregate of which and his interpretation thereof, led him to the viewpoint that nature is beautiful and should be loved, respected, and salvaged before it’s too late. Whether you agree with that perspective or think it’s “true” or not is irrelevant, because what matters, and what’s undeniable, is that that perspective exists.
To make myself clear, let’s consider a different hypothetical. Imagine a young child experiences something tragic. He loses a parent, or a sibling, or a friend. Or maybe he suffers a really awful injury. It’s something tragic. It’s something we all fear. Now, how that child ultimately deals with that tragedy is what will become a story he tells for the rest of his life. Indeed it will be his life. Because just like it says in this movie: “you tell your stories so many times, you become the stories.” So, maybe that child’s story is grim and full of ruin and he feels like he can’t overcome it. This leads to relationship problems and deep sociological issues. Maybe he turns to drugs or violence or something worse. Conversely, maybe he tells a different story. An imaginative, uplifting story in which he learned a vital life lesson, and it motivated him positively and has helped shape who he is today. Each is a story, and each would reflect a drastically different outcome, but that outcome isn’t dependent on facts, rather, how well that person can tell his story.
I mentioned “fear” just a bit ago, and another important element in Big Fish is the way fearlessness is rewarded. Ed Bloom’s character (Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney) in particular, is totally fearless. He confronts the big, scary, bad giant (played memorably by Matthew McGrory), fearless. He approaches the nasty, frightening one-eyed witch (Helena Bonham Carter), fearless. He navigates the ominous dangerous unknown trail, fearless. On and on Ed Bloom operates devoid of fear, and every time he is rewarded for it. As it turns out, the big bad scary giant isn’t a bad scary giant at all, but the gentlest of humans that you could ever imagine (giant or otherwise). The one-eyed witch isn’t nasty or frightening, but wise and kind and helpful. The trail isn’t dangerous or ominous; it’s just full of life with a greener, brighter destination waiting at the end of it. All of this, not because Ed Bloom is fearless, but because he knows there is no such thing as fear. It’s an illusion. It’s a story. Like this movie, fear is a tall-tale. But so is your life, so tell it. Tell it fearlessly, and tell it well, and you will be rewarded too.