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Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Contracts Issues in Tim Burton's "Big Fish" (2003)

Danny_DeVito_by_Gage_SkidmoreLast night, I watched Tim Burton's "Big Fish," a film that somehow escaped my notice when it first came out.  The film is a collection of tall tales told by the protagonist's father.  The father is a gifted raconteur, but the son is troubled by the fact that the autobiographical stories the father tells are all lies, and as the father nears death, the son despairs of knowing his real father.  

In any case, the film illustrates two means of entering into a contract, written and oral, in rapid succession.  The first contract is between Amos (played by Danny DeVito -- pictured left) and Karl (played rather hauntingly by the late Matthew McGrory).  The second is between Amos and the young father (Edward Bloom, played by Ewan McGregor).

Here are the contracts scenes from the script: 
                                      AMOS
                         Tell me Karl, have you ever heard of 
                         the term "involuntary servitude?"

               Karl shakes his head.

                                     AMOS
                         "Unconscionable contract?"

               Nope.

                                     AMOS
                         Great, great. That's fantastic.

Karl then signs the contract on the back of a clown, whom Amos introduces as his attorney, Mr. Soggybottom.  Meanwhile, Edward has caught sight of a beautiful woman, played as a young woman by the beautiful Allison Lohmann and played as an older woman by the even more beautiful Jessica Lange.  Amos knows who she is, but he at first refuses to help Edward find her.

                                    EDWARD
                         I'll work night and day, and you 
                         won't have to pay me. You just have 
                         to tell me who she is.

               Amos takes a long look at him. Ultimately, there's no way he 
               can say no. He shrugs. What the hell.

                                     AMOS
                         Every month you work for me, I'll 
                         tell you one thing about her. That's 
                         my final offer.

               Edward shakes Amos's hand before he can retract the offer. 
               We move into a MONTAGE:

Shockingly, DeVito plays an unscrupulous circus impressario.  But he honors his contract with Edward, even though it doesn't seem like something he would do.  Still, Edward has to work for three years before he discovers the identity of his true love.

Here's a trailer to give a better flavor of the film:

 

[JT]

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