Son: You know about icebergs, dad?
Father: Do I? I saw an iceberg once. They were
hauling it down to Texas for drinking water.
They didn’t count on there being an elephant
frozen inside. The wooly kind. A mammoth.
— Excerpt from Big Fish
I commented to a friend that I only own two movies in my movie library: Big Fish (a 2003 father and son drama by Tim Burton, starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, and Jessica Lange) and the 1962 version of The Miracle Worker (about Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke).
And I really never stopped to consider how much those two particular movies shape my thinking as a coach. My comments today will be about Big Fish, and tomorrow they will be about The Miracle Worker.
Big Fish is story about a son who cannot reconcile his distorted view of his father with all the stories he’s been told. Larger than life, the father, Edward Bloom, was a man of tall tales and extravagant excess. Nothing was simply “a fact.” And the son could not trust him because of that.
To Edward Bloom facts were broad canvasses upon which to paint funny and engaging stories, the kind that makes everyone larger than life. And by the movie’s end, we are left with the image of the son telling the father the “story” of the father’s passing using all the color and panache that the father would use. The son “stands in” for the father and offers back the mirror image that completes the dying man’s understanding of his life. A poignant and moving ending, to be sure.
At the risk of dissecting that which can only be experienced, let me offer you some thoughts about this movie. And where better to look than the arc of the storyline.
The character transformation built into the story is one of both trust and release.
No fact is “just” a fact. As the movie tries to show, facts are like the people we carry in our hearts; we trust and discover them only when we are willing to offer them the energy and color we use to shape our lives Trust is an energy offered by the heart and the tall tale is merely a convenience, one whose only purpose is to make the heart grow bigger, stronger, and more capable.
As a coach, I encourage people tall tales as a way to open one’s heart. To learn the bigger message it offers us.
But tall tales, like facts, must eventually be released. Here, then, is the other side of the trust equation.
Our life energy – from moment to moment – is never static. And often we must release the very things we cherish most because eventually … they no longer serve us. We move past the time when some particular trust is needed or even really possible. The touching poignancy of the movie’s ending is that once the son learns to fully accept his father’s extravagant way of embellishing all the important facts in his life, he then must let him go.
Part of the reason we limit our understanding of everyday facts to what is mundane and unremarkable … is that we do not want too deep a relationship. To embellish our relationships, the way theat Edward Bloom does, means we must invest ourselves in deeper ways. And we know eventually, we will have to release them – eventually we must give them back to the deeper source from which they came.
The movie’s climatic image of the son carrying his dying father into the darkly, moving waters of a broad, wide river speaks more eloquently than I ever could about this release into a deeper source. The fact that the father’s body becomes the “big fish” of the father’s own making, underscores the impact that Edward Bloom has had. Here, there is the new beginning of life restored, and the deeper appreciation for what trust can offer us. We never lose ourselves by releasing trust – we simply give it back to the source from which it comes.
Even if it’s a Wooly Mammoth.
Thanks for listening!