Psychoanalytic Criticism And Tim Burton's 'Big Fish'

Psychoanalytic Criticism And Tim Burton's 'Big Fish'

Is there more to "Big Fish" than its whimsical display of chaotic characters?

In "Big Fish," one of Tim Burton’s most surrealistic films – believed to be a reflection of his adult self – an expansive and imaginative view is shown when a young man by the name of Edward Bloom allegedly lives an extraordinary life: equipped with fantasy-like phenomena, suspiciously good luck, and even a beautifully happy ending. What captivates the viewers of this movie is the repetitive use of exaggerated events, unlikely occurrences, a lighthearted yet dauntingly obscure atmosphere, and most entrancing, the edifying meaning that life is rarely as exciting as it is told. It is through the perspective of a real person telling the chronology of occurrences, for existent people are not and will never be an actual character in a story, and therefore will never peek the exaggerated essences that fictional characters possess. It is through our interpretations of life that aid in our mental well-being and help us to disassociate from the disruptions and disturbances of life, while still drawing the very fine line between the physical world, and the mythical world.

Psychoanalytic criticism can interpret authors. It can interpret characters. It can interpret the literary form itself. Or it can interpret audiences, that is, readers and their surrounding culture […] but characters are not people, and to pretend that they are can falsify their status as literary characters, as verbal and filmic artifacts (Parker 2015:122-124).

The Mirror Stage with the help of a witch

During Big Fish, many improbable events take place that set the characters on a sort of fabled scale of what could possibly be the characters enacting the “Mirror Stage,” – when one begins to see their self apart from their surroundings that are also reflected in the mirror. When Edward is a child, he and a group of his friends are frightened by a supposed witch that lives in a haphazard, disheveled house who allegedly holds the truth to the death of any who peer into her eye. While the other children see their deaths then cry out in despair and run away in terror, contrastingly, Edward seems rather indifferent to the death he foresees, most likely because his interpretation on life is much simpler and less expectant than others. He understands, even in his youth, the large amount of ambition and plans for success he has in life and that his death will only secure the end of his beautiful journey. Edward states in the movie that he is a big fish in a little pond and the idea that this sets into place is that life is only what is interpreted by the vast number of people who inhabit it.

Edward identifies with his aged self in the witch’s eye and is content with the ending to his story. It is an idea of identification. As stated by Dr. Erik Liddell, “You can never see yourself – you only see an image of yourself, and identify with that image” (Liddell, 2015).

Depicting intention in works

Though Burton’s film was widely influenced by Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, the interpretation of the story is told through Burton’s more dreamlike perspective, and in that, we are able to peek into what he could have psychoanalytically drawn from when creating the film.

Parker states about psychoanalytic criticism, “readers [or viewers] could reduce art to biography and make writers’ early childhoods and a few phallic symbols explain everything about their writing” (Parker 2015:111). In that statement, it is hypothesized that through a form of psychoanalysis, the audience can sort of deconstruct the symbolism and structure of the work of art and be able to depict the intention behind it. “Critics can interpret an author psychoanalytically, almost as if they were psychoanalyzing the author” (123).

Reflecting our Inner-selves and finding our places

When dealing with any form of psychoanalysis, it has to be understood what the defining line is between what is present and what is masking the present. People often treat their veracities as a manifestation of something greater. Ideas, values, and physical objects, are projected to be the stepping stones that lead to more appealing realities. Whether or not the evasion from actual instances are pertinent to the masking of one’s true sentiments, the story displayed leaves a much larger impact on those who will remember that person once they are gone. This, the hint that the fantastic adventures were true, is a conventional resolution to a tall tale. But in Big Fish, the truth of Edward’s tales is finally irrelevant. It is by inventing these tales that we make sense of our lives – make it possible, in some way, to live them, rather than give in to depression or suicide. And it is by telling tales – or making movies – that we perhaps touch one another most deeply (Kehr 2003:14).

Coping in the form of displacing

Similarly, people are often faced with the notion to find their significance in the world which can be a daring and treacherous journey. Whether it is in terms of one who is masked or the raw and exposed individual, is dependent upon their interpretation of the world and themselves. Many people will displace their fears into something more minute and easily digested in order to better lament what is troubling them. In Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, “he displaces his anxieties over the loss of his mother onto the death of a fish that help him process the death of his mother” (Parker 2015:130).

Likewise, one of the vital characters in the story, Karl, a giant who plummets through the town of Ashton, is faced with the opportunity to leave the small town with Edward, in hopes to see the world and find a city more suited to himself. After they leave Ashton, Edward proposes that he and Karl take separate paths and meet up at the end of them. After spending a life alone, Karl fears this is Edward’s attempt to run from him and Karl negates the idea. Edward ensures that he was not trying to run, he gives Karl his belongings so that it would be definite that Edward would stay true to his word. Karl was given the task of keeping Edward’s backpack safe, and to not lose it.

The gentle giant, still wary that his new friend will leave him, uses the backpack that Edward loaned him as a way to console his worries. Karl displaced his fear of losing Edward into his intent on not losing Edward’s belongings. It was a much simpler task to handle and less significant, therefore Karl could let go of his anxieties over Edward and focus now on finding the end of the path so that he could see his friend again and safely return what was given to him.

Be afraid not of adventure, but of settling when adventure has just begun

When Edward continues his journey to see the world, he is seeking a sort of clarity that will hopefully give him the satisfaction of adventure he craves. He is faced with many unlikely instances which bring a sense of ambiguity. For example, during Edward’s diversion through the forest while journeying to find Karl again, he finds a Utopian town in the woods, called Spectre. This town is “everything a man could dream of” (Bloom) in that the atmosphere is tranquil, the townsmen are more than welcoming, and the love and familial presence is enticing. Edward stays for the day, but decides that even though this town is magnificent in so many ways, he could not settle because he had not yet seen the world.

It is not that the ambiguity presented in the film is creating a sense of disorder, but it is conjoining the differing instances and piecing together a timeline of surprising events. Edward is often confronted with bizarre and complex situations, but they all further his journey and push him towards his destiny. Explained by Nathan Szajnberg, in an article from the Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, “ambiguity is not chaotic: It is structured to have an enigmatic quality, not only bridging two images, but also leading from one to another” (Szajnberg 2011:4).

Our perceptions may reflect our experiences

As stated, it’s not that Spectre has one specific meaning or relevance, but that the town means many different things at different times. During Edward's journey, he is faced with enormous complications, as well as incredible blessings, but the importance of either is still the same. When Edward first discovered Spectre it was a beautiful town, but later in the film when that town is revisited, it had become a desolate, dilapidated cluster of forgotten homes and businesses. The people are much more rugged and the atmosphere is dense with insensible and dejected abandonment. It’s not that the town means one specific thing, but that the town merely meant somethings to Edward in different ways.

Spectre was the paradise Edward had always dreamed of, and the first time he stumbled upon the town he still had experience only from the small town he was raised in, and hadn’t much of an outlook on the rest of the world. Though this town was wonderful, and there was seemingly no better place – as he did not expect to find one – Edward needed to see the world for himself, in hopes that the town would await his return; later in the film when Edward returns to Spectre and it’s viewed as the abandoned town, this could be because he has now seen what else the world has to offer and the idea of a Utopian society doesn’t seem realistic anymore. His setting had changed and therefore his point of view changed as well. His expectations were unconsciously lifted.

A disordered timeline may reflect the complexities of the mind

The viewers are faced with the complex arranging of events throughout the film, which I find intriguing. Big Fish has many “out of place” clips that either peer into the future or recant on the past. The use of foreshadowing gave the viewers an idea of what is to come in the film as well as clarified past events. The writers or directors as well can unconsciously contribute hinting elements to the film that are not always noticeable, but make a beneficial impact. As defined by Bonnie S. Kaufman, “Pathography – essentially Freud’s approach, but with an emphasis on what the understanding of the unconscious contributes to the art. It is an approach that still has its limitations, but under the right circumstances, it can make a useful contribution” (Kaufman 2011:368).

"The constant struggle between the limitations of
life and the imaginative desire to seek greatness
really puts the readers/viewers into the mind of the author."

Relating back to Burton’s use of symbols and odd referencing that seem to epitomize the nonconformity he was shamed for in his youth, “A second methodology is to consider the film as a reflection of the filmmaker’s unconscious. Biographical material and quotations from the auteur are used as replacements for free associations of an analysand in a clinical process, and the film is seen as an outgrowth of the filmmaker’s intrapsychic conflicts and early history” (Gabbard 2001:244).

To further, Burton was born in the fifties, when the American dream was broadcasted throughout the country, and society was expected to live as a whole, conformist civilization. This posed as an obvious problem for those who were considered “different” and had a desire for nonconformity. This is brilliantly explicated through all of Burton’s films, (Edward Scissor Hands, Ed Wood, Big Fish, etc.) where odd yet alluring characters that are portrayed as outcasts dominate the screen. In Big Fish, Karl is a giant who could not find his place in the world, until he stumbled upon the circus; Amos Calloway who was the ringleader of the circus that Karl joined, while also disguising the werewolf in him; or Don Price, the background to Edward’s hometown fame in Ashton who could never be brought into the spotlight.

The constant struggle between the limitations of life and the imaginative desire to seek greatness really puts the readers/viewers into the mind of the author. It has been argued more recently whether the characters in the film should be portrayed simply by their roles in the film, or rather what they could potentially be by their symbolic meaning. Many film scholars argue that the characters in a film are not analysands in a psychoanalytic process, and a greater emphasis should be placed on the function of a character in the narrative rather than on that character’s underlying motivations for behavior (Gabbard 2001:245).

To conclude my obvious love for Big Fish

Though this film in particular is one that is not commonly known, I believe it is one of the greatest films Tim Burton has ever directed. Its use of whimsical scenery, bizarre individuals, unlikely occurrences, and magnificent imagination set an almost euphoric mood in the viewer. There is a very satisfactory ending when Edward Bloom — while on his death bed — was able to live one last adventure through the tale by his son, and was set free into the pond, surrounded by all of the unusual friends he had made in his adventurously lived life. As stated by Edward’s son, William, “you became what you always were, and that is a very big fish.”

Reference in print:

Parker, Robert Dale
2015 “Psychoanalysis” How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and
Cultural Studies,
111-147. Oxford University Press, New York.

Cover Image Credit: Google

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18 Ways The Disney College Program Destroys You

"I can only hope we never lose sight of one thing, that it was all started by a mouse" - Walt Disney

The Disney College Program, three little words that may or may not forever change your perspective of the world. Working for Disney has been my dream since I was a little kid. That’s all I ever wanted to do with my life-- to become a part of the magic. It wasn’t just because it’s Disney World, the most magical place on Earth. It's because I truly admire everything that this company stands for. Disney is all about bringing families and friends together, creating memories that will last a lifetime and sprinkling a little pixie dust over this magical place that I’ve called home for eleven months. I knew all of this when I received that “Congratulations!” email. Excitement rushed through my veins . The world of possibilities had finally opened its door for me. What I didn’t know, was what those possibilities truly meant, until post DCP depression kicked in. It's a real thing my friends.

1. You are always going to be an extremely friendly and approachable person.

No matter where you are or who you are talking to, you can't help to smile. You always carry a welcoming vibe with you, no matter what situation you are placed in. Working for Disney taught you how to have the patience of a Saint when it comes to dealing with people. You learned that the best way to communicate is listening to everyone with an open mind, even if they’re screaming in your face about Test Track being out of FastPasses.

2. You are constantly finding hidden Mickeys in the real world.

Admit it, your mind creates hidden Mickeys out of almost every random three circle formation. You can’t help it. You have Disney on your mind all the time.

3. You are FULL of Disney Park fun facts.

Did you know that there are 11,324 triangles that make up Spaceship Earth?!

You love sharing your vast pool of knowledge of random Disney Park fun facts. Sometimes even when people don't care about it, you just have to talk about all the things you learned as a CP.

4. You also may speak ride spiel.

“We're not gonna make it, we're not gonna make it"- Dinosaur at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

When you work for Disney, you live and breath Disney. You couldn't even count how many times you've been to the park, even just to hub grass and chill or ride the People Mover four times in a row. Those spiels were a part of your everyday life. You know when you are riding Hunted Mansion with a boatload of cast members when everyone in the stretch room whispers, "I am your host, your ghost host". Going to the park almost every day is a part of CP culture. Accidentally referring to ride spells still sometimes slips into your daily conversation. Did you really do the college program if you don't know at least one ride spiel?

5. You constantly feel the need to get down the small child's level and talk to them about their favorite Disney characters.

"Hi Princess! My, you look dashing today, what Kingdom did you travel from?!"

What you would do to get back to the days when you were paid to sit on the ground to talk to a child dressed up as Cinderella. You see a child at your real world job and you feel the need to ask them about the about their favorite Disney movie. You catch yourself accidentally referring to people as princess in the real world, but it instated of the magic it used to produce, they look at you like you’re a crazy person. *sigh*

6. If your friends hear you say, ”So this one time in Disney…" one more time they may punch you in the face.

OMG-- this reminds me of this one time in Disney when...*insert story of an amazing day you and your Disney fam had here.*

You can’t help it, every single day was filled with an adventure during your CP. You want to share your stories with everyone you encounter. It's like word vomit. The second something reminds you of your CP there is no stopping you. Your friends back home may either get really annoyed or end up learning everything you did when you had free access to Disney World.

7. Boy do you miss the days when Mondays were happy.

"We love you Mondays, we do."

For some who were into the social scene, you blankly gaze out your window on a Monday night wondering what county you would have been playing at Son On The Beach. You watch your remaining CP friends' Snapchat stories and think to yourself, "Anzacs VS. Gayllerie!? Ugh, must have been a good game." You miss the days when your only struggle was to make it out of work on time to get to Happy Mondays. Your friends back home wonder how you are so freakishly good at flip cup. It’s a CP thing.

8. 90% of your best friends are long distance.

Skype dates are essential.

You created bonds with people from all over the world during your CP. You celebrated holidays with these people. You spent every single day with them during your time in Florida. Your program would never be as magical if it wasn't for the amazing people you met here. Some of these people turn into your life long best friends-- even if they currently reside 12 hours ahead of you. There isn't a day that goes by that you don’t think about you CP BFFs. When they say you will meet the most amazing people you will ever interact with working for Disney, they were not kidding. These people are even more than friends to you, they are family. If it means staying up till 2AM to Skype with your old roommate, who now lives on the other side of the world, it doesn't even cross your mind how late it is. Catching up with them is always worth it.

9. You probably have roughly 500 "I'm Celebrating" buttons.

"Happy squad-iversary!"

You found every excuse in the book to rock an "I'm Celebrating" button when you and your squad hit the parks. "I'm celebrating ERs" was a great one to sport when you got off work early. The button days were the special days. You could probably fill an entire cork board with all of the buttons you collected over your CP. Thank goodness for that, you'll have a tangible memory of those magical days for a lifetime.

10. The clock strikes 3:00PM and you know the Festival Of Fantasy Parade is strolling out of Frontier Land.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the time has come to take your places” -The Festival Of Fantasy Parade.

You continuously catch yourself looking at the clock around 3PM and feeling a little empty inside. To all the days before work when you watched that parade with your roommates, you were the greatest. You can always spot a cast member as “dreams that glow” blur down Main Street. They are usually the ones dancing along and singing as their favorite floats pass by. What you would do to relive those days.

11. You know a lot about the world and the people it's made up of.

I’d be real keen to learn about your culture over some Maccas, eh.

You know to never tell an Australian their accent sounds like a Kiwi's or visa-versa. You can spot the difference from miles away. You’ve learned the lads from down under are some of the funniest people you’ll ever interact with, and there are in fact, no kangaroos in New Zealand— just wallabies. You know that the people from Spain and Brazil are usually down for some fun and it's always a good time to kick back with your friends from France or The Netherlands. It's true that the Italians are loud and outspoken, in the best way possible. The people from Japan are simply the some of the sweetest. You meet so many people from all over the world and learn so much about their culture. You get more of a feel for all of the greatness the world is made up of than any textbook could ever explain.

12. You could draw a map of Magic Kingdom blindfolded.

“Nearest FastPass kiosk?!” “Down the pathway to the left!

Not only is Disney World your home, but you know every square inch of it. You could still probably give someone directions to the nearest quick service restaurant of your location, from wherever you are currently sitting in the world.

13. Applying for jobs? Disney always makes you stand out.

“Wow, you worked for Disney World? Tell me more about that!”

Your resume stands out among the thousands. Potential employers want to hear about your Disney College Program experience and you are over the moon to share. You tell them about the days where you immersed guests into the theme of your location and all of the magic you made. Working for the number one entertainment company is something to be proud of.

14. You are constantly checking airline prices to reunite with your roommates and get back to the place that started it all.

There is nothing better than reuniting with your Disney family. Your most visited web pages are airlines sites. You count the days where you can rule the parks again with your favorite people by your side. You can't help but to run to them in the middle of MCO with tears in your eyes and magic in your heart, ready to create even more memories together. You know you found forever friends in them, it's never goodbye— it's see ya real soon.

15. You have a strong emotional attachment to certain rides of shows.

"The best part is, you'll never run out of wishes"- Wishes Nighttime Spectacular.

There are some shows and rides that take you right back to the days where Walt Disney World was your usual hang out spot. Some of those shows have so much more meaning to you and the magic you made. You tend to get a little teary eyed watching them when you visit. Even when your CP is over, the magic lives on in your soul.

16. Disney is not just a vacation spot to you, it’s your home.

You feel at ease here. You may have even found who you are and who you aspire to be here. It’s a special place to you that holds so much magic. Going back feels familiar. You never feel like an outsider here. Walt Disney World really is your home and it welcomes you right back every time you return.

17. People who know you before your College Program say you've changed.

You're more outspoken, you are confident in yourself and you carry on with pride. Not to mention your work ethic and customer service skills are outstanding. You believe in things and the people around you. You believe in magic and that's all thanks to the Disney College Program.

18. It was the best 4 months - 1 year of your life and you would do anything to relive just one more day of being a CP.

"While no one knows for sure what we'll see or do. I do know it will be quite an adventure, an adventure that we'll take and make together. See you in the future"- Spaceship Earth.

If you were given the opportunity to put on those extreme high-waisted polyester grandpa pants and that florescent shirt that was probably eight sizes too big for you— you’d do it in a heartbeat. Despite the long hours and blazing sun, sometimes your life felt like a dream. Your time spent working for the mouse will forever be your most magical days, as the Disney College Program was the best opportunity of your entire life.

Cover Image Credit: Dana Saccoccio

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4 Things To Do When You Don't Win The UVA Basketball Lottery

Better luck next time.


Now that it is officially winter, it is time to cheer on Tony Bennett and the 'Hoos in one of UVA's favorite sports: basketball. While die-hard fans have attended nearly every UVA sports game leading up to basketball season to rake in Saber points, other people (like myself) have only gone to some games and have very few of these points. I was able to go to the first, less intense games with my minuscule amount of points, but now that the team has begun to play major ACC opponents, I am out of luck when it comes to scoring tickets. I am sure that I am not the only one who has had this issue as well. So, instead of being upset and watching the game through the Sanpchat stories of the friends who did get tickets, here is a list of activities that you can do while the game is going on.

1. Stream the game

The Streamable

This is definitely the most basic solution to not getting tickets. Apps like ESPN can sometimes let you stream the game. However, if you do not have a TV provider, you are probably unable to do this. If you can't stream the game but still really want to see it, see if someone you know is watching it and watch the game together. You could also go out with friends to a restaurant or sports bar around C'Ville since they probably have the game on one of their TV's.

2. Spend time with friends

Casey Clarke

If you aren't able to watch the game on a device, you can spend some time hanging out with friends who could also not get tickets. When my roommate and I did not get tickets to the last basketball game, we played card games with some friends and watched the latest episode of The Bachelor and made it a night that was even better than if we had gone to the game.

3. Catch up on work

Lukasz Popardowski

Personally, I always have something that I need to do for a class or extracurricular. While I typically push the work off until later if it isn't very important, I could be finishing that work during the time that I would have spent at the game. Although this may not be the most fun way to spend your time, it is very productive and helps you in the long run.

4. Relax


When you don't want to work or go anywhere, just stay home and have a relaxing night. Get in some comfy clothes, make some popcorn, and binge watch some TV or movies. School can cause you to build up stress, so having a relaxing night in would help to alleviate some of the stress and make you happier.

Although you may be bummed that you did not win tickets to the game, hopefully doing one of these things will help to take your mind off of it. Then, go to more games to get more Saber Points and try again for the next game. Hopefully, you will eventually get tickets and have an amazing time!

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