Since I got an interesting response on my last blog on Tim Burton mentioning Big Fish, I decided to write another related blog entry focusing on this movie. In fact, I initially I wanted to include Big Fish in my last blog, too, because it illustrates Burton’s image of the carnivalesque while Edward Scissorhands deals with the grotesque. I think that Big Fish is an excellent counterpart to Edward Scissorhands. For everyone who does not yet know the movie, this is the trailer:
In Big Fish, Burton pieces together the life story of his main character (whose name, funnily enough, is also Edward), but – as it is typical for Burton – he tells it in a highly unusual way. In fact, the individual stories rather resemble fairytales than real life experiences. The reason for this is the almost massive use of exaggerations. According to Bakhtin, exaggeration is one of the characteristics of the carnivalesque (cf. Bakhtin: p. 18) and Burton obviously uses it as a technique in Big Fish. Every detail – no matter how small and unimportant it might be at first sight – that slightly diverges from the norm is exaggerated and in that way turned into something very special, fabulous and maybe even magical. To tell these exaggerated version of Edward’s life, a second world is created. The frame narrative, however, is more realistic and simple. The idea of a second world is, according to Bakhtin (p. 6), also characteristic for the carnivalesque. Within this second world of the carnival, there are very little to no limitations for the characters as well in terms of what they are capable of as in looks. In addition, in this second world, everyone is treated equally and the participants have the chance to take on a completely new character. The characters of Edward’s stories, however, remain essentially what they are in reality, with the only exception that their special features are exaggerated. The idea of the carnivalesque is even carried to an extreme when Edward joins a circus for a couple of years. However, I believe that his entire life can actually be seen as a carnival/ circus.
Like in Edward Scissorhands, Burton celebrates the extraordinary in this movie. This time, however, he doesn’t use the carnivalesque to mock the ordinary world, but rather to draw attention to the extraordinary within the ordinary which is essentially what makes our everyday world beautiful.