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Finding Nemo

September 11, 2015

FNThe story of a father in search of his lost son—escapes cheap sentimentalism because it is a spiritually evocative film.  Its spirituality is evident in Dory.  In a lesser film, Dory would be a one-dimensional sidekick, written into the story for comic relief.  But in Nemo, Dory is more.  She is a true picture of having “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1). When she and Marlin are in the belly of the whale, she interprets for Marlin:  “He says its time to let go.  Everything’s going to be alright.”  Marlin: “How do you know something bad isn’t gonna happen?”  Dory:  “I don’t!”  Earlier, when Marlin quails to ask directions, she tells him to “give it a shot and hope for the best!”  And, famously, she perseveres.  “When life’s got you down you know what you gotta do?  Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…”

“When my son was five,” director Andrew Stanton says, “I remember taking him to the park. I had been working long hours and felt guilty about not spending enough time with him. As we were walking, I was experiencing all this pent up emotion and thinking, ‘I-miss-you, I-miss-you,’ but I spent the whole walk going, ‘Don’t touch that. Don’t do that. You’re gonna fall in there.’ And there was this third-party voice in my head saying, ‘You’re completely wasting the entire moment that you’ve got with your son right now.’ I became obsessed with this premise that fear can deny a good father from being one. With that revelation, all the pieces fell into place and we ended up with our story.”

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) calls it “an enchanting fable about courage, self-sacrifice and the power of love to overcome insurmountable odds.”

Hinting at the parable of the prodigal son, Nemo doesn’t run away, but his rebellion certainly leads to him losing his relationship with his father, his security and his freedom, just as the son did in Jesus’ Luke 15 tale. Marlin repeatedly warns Nemo of the danger he’s putting himself in, but Nemo doesn’t listen. When things go sour and Nemo is captured, Marlin immediately begins searching for him, overcoming his fear by risking life and limb to bring him back. He refuses to give up on him. And he doesn’t sulk and get mad at Nemo for being foolish.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell identifies the “belly of the whale” experience as one of the stages of the hero’s journey which he describes in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  He says that this sort of event can occur just as well in a temple as a whale, but wherever it occurs, it is a necessary step in the hero’s journey to complete his mythic quest.

The “belly of the whale” experience is one where the hero does not conquer, that comes later, but is instead swallowed into the unknown.  Here he contends not with external enemy, but part of himself, and in this encounter, something must die; it is “a form of self-annihilation” (Campbell).  This is a painful, but necessary process, for if the hero encounters his enemy or attempts his great task before this he has dealt with himself, the quest would end in failure.

Before his adventure began, Marlin could not venture away from the safety of the reef.  Not since his mate, Coral, and all his offspring, except Nemo, were killed by a predatory fish.  This tragic event shapes his entire life and he believes that world beyond the reef was hostile, even evil.  His worldview profoundly affects his parenting and Nemo is beginning to strain against his father’s over-protectiveness.

Marlin’s paranoia precipitats an uncharacteristic act of defiance by Nemo which results in his capture by divers.  He is taken away to far off Sydney.  Marlin goes after him.  He leaves the reef because there is only one thing he fears more than the open water—losing Nemo.

But just because he leaves the reef, doesn’t mean that he’s found any kind of courage or changes his mind about the dangers of the ocean.  He’s still at the beginning of his adventures.  Marlin enters the phase of the hero’s journey that Campbell calls “The Road of Trials.”  World literature is full of these tests and ordeals.  Often with a supernatural helper, the hero begins to understand that “there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage” (Campbell).  Of course there is, it’s called the screenwriter, but do you ever get the sense that your life is a sort of hero’s journey?

Things in this world are usually too complex to reduce to simple categories like good and evil.

Although it doesn’t make sense, by opening your hands, you can gain so much more.

Significant transformation occurs through suffering and times of despair, and these can be followed by a profound joy.

Bruce: [reciting] I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine. If I am to change this image, I must first change myself. Fish are friends, not food.

Nemo: I wanna go home. Does anyone know where my dad is?

Peach: Honey, your father’s probably back at the pet store.

Nemo: Pet store?

Bloat: Yeah. Like, I’m from Bob’s Fish Mart.

Gurgle: Pet Palace.

Bubbles: Fish-O-Rama.

Deb: Mail Order.

Peach: eBay.

Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.

Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.

Marlin: What?

Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

Marlin: [Dory and Marlin are in pitch darkness looking for the mask] Dory, do you see anything?

Dory: Ahh! Something’s got me!

Marlin: That’s just me. I’m sorry.

Dory: Who’s that?

Marlin: [exasperated] Who’s that? Who else would it be? It’s me!

Dory: Are… are you my conscience?

Marlin: [sighs] Yes, I’m your conscience. We haven’t spoken for a while. How are you?

Dory: Eh, can’t complain.

Marlin: Good. Now, Dory, do you see anything?

Dory: [angler fish’s light approaches] Yes, I see… a light. Hey, conscience, am I dead?

Marlin: No, I see it too.

Bruce: Now there goes a father. Looking for his little boy.

[starts crying]

Bruce: I never knew my father!

Anchor: Come on, group hug.

Chum: We’re all mates here, mate.

Dory: Hey, what’s wrong?

Marlin: What’s wrong? While they’re busy doing their little impressions, I’m miles from home with a fish who can’t even remember her name.

Dory: Boy, I bet that’s frustrating.

Marlin: Meanwhile, my son is missing.

Dory: Your son Chico?

Marlin: Nemo.

Dory: Right. Got it.

Marlin: But it doesn’t matter, because no one in this entire ocean is going to help me.

Dory: Well, I’m helping you.

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