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Magical realism is a truly transformative genre of fiction in which fantastical or mythical elements are blended with realistic ones in order to reveal something about human nature or existence. There have been many writers over the years who have attempted to capture the majesty of the form, but not all have succeeded. There are two in particular, however, who stand out from the rest. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his story The Most Handsome Drowned Man in the World, and Tim Burton’s film Big Fish, both have underlying points and opinions that are disguised in the elements of fantasy throughout the respective storylines. There are also many human truths in both stories that can be revealed if you simply look past the magical and fantastical elements that disguise them. Both stories are brilliant examples of magical realism; the beautiful form in all its entirety.
The first story, the one portraying the allure of Esteban, shows us something important about human nature. The fact is that sometimes people are so desperate for the “newest thing” that they can develop an ability to overlook certain details about the object (or, in this case, person) they have chosen to pursue. This is evidenced in the story by how so many of the women are willing to leave their husbands in order to make time for tending to Esteban. Then, later, the men whose wives had left them behind come to know and love Esteban as well. As it is said in the story, “there was such truth in his mode of being, that even the most suspicious of men… shuddered to the marrow with the sincerity of Esteban.” This shows the desire of human beings to be in on the latest trends and excitements. But, even when not initially enticed, it is common for people to be drawn in by the excited perspective of others. Overall, the point being made by Marquez is that people, when in pursuit of the latest trend, can become so caught up in their fascination that they forget to use rationality and abandon sound judgement.
Comparatively, the film directed by Burton uses magical realism in a similar way, but the underlying truths are much different. The idea accompanying his film is about how people are often lulled into a sense of security when they stick to the things they are good at, but will ultimately find no gratification from doing so. Norther Winslow, a man Edward Bloom meets during his time spent in the utopian town of Spectre, is a perfect example of this ideal. In a previous life, Norther was an acclaimed and well loved poet, but now, although he believes nothing to have changed, has become a poetic disgrace. When he moves to Spectre, he loses all the talent he used to possess and becomes trapped in a cycle of repetitive poems and words. Although Norther is comfortable in Spectre, he will never be able to improve as a writer until he leaves. The point Burton appears to be making here is that people, by staying in their comfort zone, will gradually forget how to reach beyond it and will ultimately be isolated as the world changes, leaving them behind.
Although the works by Garcia Marquez and Burton stand alone in their illumination of certain human truths, there are also some parallels and connected ideas between them. One of the biggest of these presents the idea that people who are special individuals cause fascination and wonder to arise everywhere they go. By the time they die, these special people have a close following of believers. Taking an example from Marquez’s story, by the time Esteban is finally released back into the sea, he has developed a following of believers whose hearts have been filled with the joyful reality of his existence. In fact, many of the villagers were so moved by him that it was collectively decided they, “would paint the fronts of their houses beautiful colors to eternalize the memory of Esteban.” Similarly, in the film by Burton, the protagonist Edward Bloom lived a life of many adventures and magical friendships. These friends, often times treading the line between the real and unreal, come to love him wholeheartedly. In the last scene, when Edward is carried down to the river, all of his friends are there to send him off right. His death was enough to bring everyone who had ever shared a place in his heart together in one place, unified under the collective admiration of an incredible man. Combined, the stories of Esteban and Edward Bloom show us how a spectacular life is usually the predecessor to a spectacular legacy.
Even while Garcia Marquez and Burton use magical realism in similar ways, the ideas expressed throughout their stories have both conflicting and complementing elements. But Marquez, who uses magical realism to speak on the matter of human desire, and Burton, who uses it to discuss the danger of comfort and the continuance of static living, ultimately meet on common ideological ground. They both seem to believe that the biggest legacies are left by those who live the most impactful and well-connected lives. Overall, the use of magical realism to subtly hint at underlying human truths shows us that things are not always apparent at first glance. Sometimes, it is necessary to take a second look and dig beneath the surface in order to determine what something truly means.
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