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 story I want to discuss here is the one that starts the film and the one that Bloom has told many times to his family and friends. This is the one about how he caught the biggest catfish in history with his wedding ring on the day that his son was born. It was a giant “uncatchable” catfish that had become a legend at the local lake for decades. According to Bloom, the catfish is what kept him from being there for his son’s birth, as it took him hours to reel it in. But at the very last moment, the catfish got off the line and Bloom lost the biggest potential catch of his life. The story opens the film as Bloom tells it to his new daughter in law, as well as ends it, as the one of the last scenes is the giant cat fish spitting out a wedding ring.
This story is reminiscent of folklore found in fishing and outdoors culture across the United States. Nearly every fishing town or major lake that attracts anglers has its own “Larry the Lunker,” a giant fish that outsmarts everyone who tries to catch it. The fish is so old and experienced, it can outwit even the most capable anglers. Yet, fisherman talk about how they almost catch it or see it often in the lakes like it is some sort of Loch Ness Monster. The film pays homage to this image with Bloom almost catching it but then loosing it at the last second. However, the catfish seems to represent more than just an angler folk legend. It comes to represent the excitement and story-telling aspect that folk tales play. They aim to help provide moral lessons, but most importantly that aim to entertain. That is exactly what Tim Burton achieves in the iconic film thanks to figures like the giant catfish.
Burton, Tim. (2003). Big Fish. Columbia Pictures.