The 2003 film Big Fish was an amalgam of a number of different American folktales. Directed by Tim Burton, the film uses innovative imagery and cinematography to give new life to old legends. It aims to connect some of the most widely loved folk stories of the United States in a compelling, but realistic story about a man’s life. The plot centers around the life of Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman known for his tall tales. At the end of his life, he recounts some of the biggest tall tales to his son, which allows his son to connect with him on a deeper level. The film is a series of flashbacks as Bloom tells his son his outrageous stories, and this is where the audience gets an on-depth look at some of America’s most iconic folk stories.
The second folktale from the film I want to add to this collection is the myth of werewolves. As the main character, Bloom, is working at Calloway Circus for the ringmaster Amos Calloway in order to learn details about a young woman Bloom fell in love with. The circus itself is reminiscent of carnie culture that was popularized in the United States, but it is the character of Calloway that is the focus of this manifestation of a folk tale. Werewolves are supposed to be human-wolf hybrids that turn into their wolfen form during the days of the full moon. This is a folk tale that goes back to medieval European traditions but has also been popularized in American culture and traditions as well. After three years of Bloom working with Calloway, he discovers the dark secret that he is a werewolf, which prompts Calloway to give up more information about Bloom’s future wife in order to pay for Bloom’s silence.
The exposition of Calloway as a werewolf was actually quite different than the traditional folklore surrounding them. Yes, Calloway turned into a werewolf on the nights of the full moon, which is when Bloom goes to confront him. The clown even has a gun with a silver bullet ready in case they need it to kill Calloway as he attacks Bloom, which harkens back to the myth of how to kill a werewolf from older folk tales and Hollywood films.
However, Calloway is portrayed more as a pure wolf than as a type of hybrid. In many ways, this makes the myth even more terrifying, because there would be really no way to tell who a werewolf versus a normal wolf was. It is also interesting because throughout the whole film, Tim Burton goes over and above to deliver outrageous looking creatures with impressive computer graphics. Yet, Calloway is just replaced with a real wolf, which lacks some of the fantasy involved in the construction of the other myths. Even more interesting, Bloom pacifies Calloway by playing fetch with him, also demonstrating how this image of a werewolf is more like an energetic dog looking for a playmate than a vicious man-hunter. Bloom later recounts, “it was that night that most things you consider evil or wicked are simply lonely and lacking social tenacity.” I found this an interesting performance of the werewolf folk tale that was probably used as part of the comedy of Bloom’s stories, making them look even more ridiculous than reality. It also helps use the werewolf not as a source of fear, but to promote a moral lesson to nit be judgmental about things you do not understand.
Burton, Tim. (2003). Big Fish. Columbia Pictures.