BIG FISH, A Man’s Identity – Truth or Myth?

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I just saw “Big Fish” and I cannot get it out of my mind. Not that I want to. It’s one of those films that is so intriguing you just want to let it play again and again in your imagination, if not on your dvd player.

Have you ever asked yourself just who you are?

Based on a book by Daniel Wallace, “Big Fish” (directed by Tim Burton) poses some very interesting questions about a person’s identity. Think about it. Are you really who you think you are? Are you really who you say you are? Can you change your identity by changing your story?

Yesterday I met a friend who told me that she just changed her first name. She didn’t change her location, didn’t change her job, didn’t change her friends or associates. She only changed her first name. Having a completely different name on her identity card and bank account makes her happy. And to tell the truth, she does seem like a different person.

Likeable Characters — Likeable Movie

One of the things that is so likeable about the movie is that the characters are so likeable. Does that make sense? When you see and hear the older Ed Bloom (played by one of my favorite actors, Albert Finney) tell a tall tale about his exploits, it makes you wish you could be his grandchild or next door neighbor.

And when the younger Ed Bloom (played by Ewan McGregor) comes across people and experiences, you feel happy to be one of the people he comes across. He defines the meaning of “a sociable person.”

The Look and Feel of the Movie

Another thing that makes the movie so likeable is the visual effect. I mean, while you’re watching this amazing story unfold, with exotic characters coming to life before your eyes, you can’t help but also notice the fantastic colors all over the screen. It is a very pleasing movie for the eyes.

While the odyssey of Ed Bloom steals its way into your mind, aided by the visual effect and the music, it makes you feel a little like Ed’s son, Will (played by Billy Crudup). You want to know what is true and what is myth.

BIG FISH, A Mans Identity   Truth or Myth?


You see, Ed Bloom has the habit of telling tall tales — you know, like big fish stories. For example, when he tells Will that he saw an iceberg in Texas, it’s just the same as hearing legends of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox. Maybe it’s all a lie, but there’s nothing harmful about it.

Ed Bloom makes everything a tall tale. And that’s all that his son, Will, has ever heard about his father. When Ed is old and dying – coming to terms with his true self, so to speak — Will sets out to learn the truth about his father. In a way, he also learns the truth about himself — his own identity.

Can the truth be a myth?

Will has come to believe that all the stories he’s heard about his father’s exploits were fantastic fabrications. From befriending a giant — to parachuting into the enemie’s camp during a war — to an inadvertent bank robbery — to saving a mythical town called Spectre — none of it is believable.

And you have to admit, while you watch the younger Ed Bloom living out these tall tales that the older Ed Bloom has told time and time again, you also wonder if there is any truth at all to any of it.

One thing that I noticed though was that Ed Bloom doesn’t tell his stories to brag about himself. I mean, while he is the hero in his stories, he doesn’t really try to gain admiration. He just stays true to the way the story turns out, hero or not.

The real reason Ed Bloom tells such fantastic stories is because people love his stories. Remember, Ed is a sociable person, and Ed likes helping people. There is nothing in the telling of his stories that Ed wants for himself — he just wants to entertain people.

In telling his stories, Ed Bloom defines himself. [He tells daughter-in-law Josephine (played by Marion Cotillard) to just look in the dictionary under "handsome."]

As his wife (played by Jessica Lange) tells Will, not all of the stories are lies. He really did parachute into wartime Korea. He really did help a town called Spectre. He really did learn from an insightful woman, Jenny (played by Helena Bonham Carter) who probably represents the wise old witch (also played by Helena Bonham Carter) of his youth.

Maybe we are all big fish

In the end, Ed’s identity is more than the collection of his experiences. At the funeral, Will sees the real life people who were the characters in his father’s tales. The giant (played by 7′ 6″ Matthew McGrory), the circus master (played by Danny DeVito), the Chinese twins (played by Ada and Arlene Tai), the poet-turned-bank-robber (played by Steve Buscemi) — they’re all there, along with hundreds of other folks who made up the life and times of Ed Bloom, including the big fish.

I keep going back to what different people say.

The doctor (played by Robert Guillaume) tells Will that he was born a week early, and his father wasn’t there. Then he asks which version of the story he would prefer to hear — the doctor’s or his father’s big fish story. Unlike Will, the doctor prefers the embellished tall tale.

Then there is what Will says. Ed Bloom has told the stories so many times that they’ve taken on a life of their own. He has become the stories he has told. He has become the big fish.

And then there is what Ed Bloom tells the giant. “You are not too big for the town — the town is just too small for you. And it’s too small for my ambitions.” So Ed Bloom sets out to seek his destiny. He became the big fish that got away.

Well, like Ed Bloom’s name implies, a man’s identity grows on him. And there is nothing so great that happens that can’t be made greater by the telling of the story. We are each a collection of our own experiences. But we are also much more than that. We are also what we have learned from our experiences and what we have done with what we’ve learned.

And for some of us, maybe all of us, the lives we have are just too small for our real characters. That person inside you that can see wonderful beauty in the common world, and that experiences fantastic escapades in a mundane life — maybe that is your real identity. Maybe that is your true self waiting for the telling, like the big fish seeking bigger waters.