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A little aeternitas. A film and a lot of beauty

04 December 2021

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of accompanying the American director, Tim Burton on a guided tour of the Vatican Museums. Our guide was Barbara Jatta, director of the Museums. In that splendid setting, I had a wonderful experience, preceded by a quick conversation that for me was even better. In fact, I had wanted to meet Tim Burton in person for some time because I had a debt with him that I wished to repay. Films such as Edward Scissorhands; Nightmare before Christmas; and, Ed Wood have brightened my life, and still continue to do so. However, I am particularly attached to one of his films, that being Big Fish, based on the novel by Daniel Wallace. A film that is an ode to fatherhood. I went to see it at the cinema with my son who was nine years old at the time, in 2004.

We anxiously followed the two hours of the show, admiring the amazing adventures of Edward Bloom, the protagonist of the story together with his son Will. Their beautiful, intense and dramatic relationship, which is deeply true, is heartbreaking. When the lights came up at the end of the show, I turned to my son. My eyes were teary with emotion and so were his, “Dad, shall we see it a hundred more times?” I will never forget that moment. It is the true “conclusion” of that film, a conclusion that opens the story, not closes it. In short, it is a little treasure of my life as a father, and so when I had the opportunity to meet the director of Big Fish in person, the first thing I said to him (I repeat: as if I wanted to pay off a debt) was the story of how my son and I had seen his film. He looked at me with amazement and gratitude and I realized that he, in turn, was also moved by my little family story. He confided in me. “I'm really happy about what you've told me, because I directed that film precisely because I had lost my father not long before. I was touched by this and the evening ended with me calling my son to tell him what had happened.

The tales never end, as Frodo Baggins says in The Lord of the Rings, the novel by Tolkien, an author who exercised fatherhood in a very intense way, as you can tell by reading his letters to his four sons. Two sentences from this correspondence seem to me to comment precisely on the sense of this little “triangular” episode between my son, Tim Burton and I.  Tolkien wrote to his son Christopher that “man, the storyteller, must be redeemed in a way that is in keeping with his nature: by a moving story”; and in another to his son Michael, in June 1941, he added that “the bond between father and son is not constituted only by consanguinity: there must be some aeternitas. There is a place called 'heaven' where good works begun here can be completed; and where unwritten stories and unfulfilled hopes can find a sequel.”  What I experienced that day at the Holiday cinema in Rome, in 2004, was a little of that ‘aeternitas’.

By Andrea Monda