Although Tessa has already said it best, I’ll second her and say that the nature of truth is what fascinates me most about the movie Big Fish.
The main thing I’ve taken from this story is that there are a lot of different kinds of truth, and that the truth of something is very much dependent upon a specific person looking at a specific situation.
In my mind, the character of Will has a pretty narrow view of the world, and it’s heavily colored by resentment toward his father. Throughout most of the film, Will is adamant that his father abandon his tall stories and tell the actual truth—which, in Will’s estimation, exists in one definite form, and it isn’t particularly heartening. A journalist by nature as well as profession, he’s striving for impartial documentation. By stripping away the fantastical elements, he’s asking his father to admit to a world that is bleak and essentially cruel.
This is interesting, because for me, the real magic of Ed’s tales lies in the ugly parts. He’s weathered the Korean war, watched a whole town fall into ruin, and—if he can be believed, which he can’t, really—known for most of his life what his death will look like. But taken together with spectacles of great beauty, these events just serve to illustrate the complexity of the world. Despite numerous obstacles and complications, Edward has devoted himself to hard work, friendship, and a dedicated relationship with one woman. Because he has always focused on what is fantastic, on what might be, his version of the world is far more strange and glorious than Will’s, but in the end, it’s no less true.
I think that’s my favorite aspect of this movie: that a man can grow up and live a full and (debatably) responsible life, while experiencing the world with the same wonder a child would. Despite everything that’s happened over the course of his life, his love for the world is deep and real—and wholly without cynicism.