When Richard Zanuck was head of production at Twentieth Century Fox, his father, famed studio executive Darryl Zanuck, fired him.

The experience soured a relationship that Richard, legendary producer of “Jaws,” “Driving Miss Daisy” and dozens more, said was positive before that. The father and son, however, did make amends before the elder died.

“I think we all have that similar story,” Richard said. “Maybe not quite as dramatic as the one I lived through, but we have that identification. There’s that mystery in the relationship between fathers and sons that’s sometimes very hard to figure out. Sometimes when you figure it out, it’s too late to patch things up. In my case, it wasn’t too late.”

“Big Fish,” Zanuck’s latest production that’s now in theaters and will go into wider release Jan. 9, is a story about a father-son relationship: how it went awry, what kept it that way, and what may redeem it before it’s too late.

The film’s theme was a deep source of reflection for Zanuck and others at a recent round of interviews for “Big Fish” in New York.

Danny DeVito, one of the film’s stars, spoke repeatedly of how the movie, based on a novel by Alabamian Daniel Wallace, brought memories of his own father back to the surface.

“When I watch the movie, my father’s with me through the picture,” DeVito said. “It’s just so strong. It brings back so many memories of my dad. And I think it’s going to have that effect on a lot of people as you sit there and think about your parents, your dad especially.”

“I’ve seen it twice,” he continued, “and am just flooded with emotion every time I watch the movie—going down different avenues with my father, reliving instances that have nothing to do with the film while I’m watching the film.”

Steve Buscemi, who plays a poet in the film, also cited the father-son theme as an attraction.

“I like films where people are struggling, where people are trying to figure out life and relationships,” he said. “This film, for me, has the whole father and son thing. It’s just really, really strong and something that I’m interested in.”

Buscemi also puts a premium on family time.

“That time is precious,” he said. “I’m very fortunate that both of my parents are still alive. They’re not going to be around forever, and now is the time to keep that going, to keep it strong.”

The last word, however, goes to Richard Zanuck:

“I identify with this picture,” he said. “I think all of us do in one way or another. I know Tim [Burton, the director] does. Because we all have fathers, and we all have relationships that are sensitive in many areas, and that’s what this is about. The discovery of who is my father, and who is my son, and the things that are sometimes unspoken that churn inside of us all. That’s the theme, and I think everybody’s affected by it.”

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

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