Watching a movie like Big Fish again was for me a complex experience. As a storyteller, I am certainly familiar with the ideas of “truth” or “reality” and the subjectivity of each. However the crossover between my life (IRL in real life as the World of Warcraft people say) and the place in which stories exist is uncomfortable.I’m a cross between the extremes offered by Tim Burton in the father-son dynamic.
While I am happy to spend time in the same story land that Ewan McGregor’s character, Edward Bloom, exists I do not welcome that whimsy as it takes place in the family dynamic. What I mean is that everyone perceives a situation differently.
I’ll take my father for an example. Until I was 24 (so last year) I did not know very much about him–I actually assumed that he might no longer be alive. My mother had left him because he was abusive when I was 18 months old. My aunt, his sister, found me on Facebook and I learned about his existence. When I first spoke to him I found that we existed on a different timeline. I was an autonomous adult who had lived an entire life without the existence of a “father”. In my reality I am not sure I understand what a father is; I am somewhat fascinated by father-daughter dynamics but the information is theoretical too me–it’s not concrete.
So, when I called him for the first time he began by talking about how he and my mom split up because they were fighting all the time and didn’t want to hurt my sister and I. He used the kind of communication you would use with a person much younger than I. He also remembered the situation drastically different than the way my mother had told us.
The father in Big Fish is similar to a well-known literary character–Willy Loman from the Arthur Miller play, “Death of a Salesmen”. Both men are traveling salesmen and work takes them away from their families. In both stories infidelity makes an appearance. Finally they both make up stories about their lives in order to make them more fantastical then their realities. the difference, at least in my perception, is that there is a prevailing sadness in Death of a Salesman and an acute awareness of the cover-ups that Willy Loman uses to make himself seem better than he was.
It’s the cover up that is important for me. Like Willy Loman, my father attempts to hide a past (beyond just the difference in why he was not around but I exclude examples for brevity) that makes him less than who he wants to be. While Edward Bloom shows some level of dedication to his wife, if not always parenting duties, Willy Loman appears to lack that dedication. It’s this difference that makes Edward Bloom a more sympathetic character to me. The reason I point out this association is because it the paradigm of truth/reality and lies/honesty parallels my relationship with my father, and my mother. I do not appreciate cover-ups or excuses because it creates extreme cognitive dissonance to me. I can only view reality through the lenses of my parents and both have vested interest in presenting their selves in the best light. Still, perhaps after this time stories have become reality and it is only natural to not want to view yourself as a failure. Still for the affected parties, me and my sister, who lacked ability to impact the situation (and I do mean it felt as though we couldn’t make a dent) I can’t help but want for the truth even if the story is unpleasant.
In this way my own history has become an uncatchable fish. I am left to make up reality as I understand it. There’s a freedom in that, but it is accompanied by the sadness of loss. There is perceptions of reality and there is truth…it’s not easy to know which is which. I think most people lie between storyland and journalistic fact.