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Little Miss Sunshine

In Books, Movies and Television on December 25, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Little missThey are the Hoovers because they all pretty much suck.

At the dinner table–the symbol of familial unity–they eat chicken out of a bucket, off of paper plates and drink pop served in McDonald’s collectible glasses. The nutritive value of the meal is equal to the emotional and spiritual value of this communion. A message on the answering machine interrupts the dissonance of conflicting wills. The seven year old Olive has, by default, qualified tor the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant. Reluctantly, the family must make the long trip from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, California so that Olive can attempt to achieve her dream and become a beauty queen.

There are many reasons that Little Miss Sunshine is one of my favourite movies. The acting is brilliant and the screenplay works on all levels. It’s also funny, poignant, philosophical and redemptive.

This last term has produced shock in some. (SPOILER ALERT) If they’ve seen it, they point out that it includes a character that is homosexual and another that uses of heroine. It has strong language and a t-shirt that declares, “Jesus Was Wrong.” If that’s not enough, a seven year old girl dances, albeit naively, like a stripper. They often ask: “Even if there is something redemptive in this movie, is it worth seeing all the ‘garbage’ just to find that particle of truth?”

I find far more than a particle of truth in this film. Perhaps, part of the problem is that we have different approaches to understanding narrative. If the truth is a piece of a story that can be extracted from the whole and held up to be a true bit, then an argument could be made that there aren’t a lot or true bits in this movie and quite a few untrue bits. (This approach is rather like looking for the moral in a story.)

Implication is a more appropriate approach to narratives of any kind for it maintains the integrity of all elements of the story of which the “idea” is but one. The first definition for term implication in the Oxford English Dictionary is the one I have in mind: “The action of involving, entwining, or entangling; the condition of being involved, entangled, twisted together, intimately connected or combined.”
The truth of a narrative is communicated through the experience it expresses–the experience in which we are entangled. Viewers of Little Miss Sunshine will find themselves entangled in the story.
Every character has a dream, hope or driving motivation. Significantly, these motivations are completely individual and they tend to divide family members. Olive dreams of being beautiful; Richard wants to have success in his career; Duane want nothing more than be free from home and his means of escape is to become a test pilot; Grandpa seeks pleasure in his waning years; Cheryl dreams of a happy family; and Frank seeks recognition and love.

Which of these dreams do you not also, in part, share? If the Bible is right, most (all) people will have a longing for something. These dreams are consistent with the Biblical idea that we were created for more than what we experience in life (Link). This is the place where I become entangled in the story, for I am every character in this movie.

Each character is far from achieving his or her dream. Olive lacks poise and grace, and the sort of beauty that would win a beauty pageant. Richard will never sell his self-help plan because it is mostly empty cliché. The picture or a previous husband sitting on the entry table shows that Cheryl is divorced and her current family is far from harmonious. Duane hates everyone, especially his family–he has stopped speaking and will not until he is in flight school. Grandpa’s hedonism is self-destructive; his heroin use has gotten him thrown out of the nursing home. Frank has attempted suicide because he’s lost everything that he valued. Each character struggles with his or her own limitations as well as external circumstances.

It is very clear that, as individuals, they need something; as a family they need something; they need redemption. This too is consistent with the Biblical view of humanity. People were made to be in communion with each other. They began their journey seeking their own desires and their lives were dissonant and broken. They came together around a quest; they thought the quest was getting her into a stupid beauty contest, but it turned out the quest was the unification of their family around the protection of its most vulnerable.

If you are looking for the nugget of truth in this movie, there are many.

Here is a partial list:

  1. We all dream of being something more than we can possibly be, because we aren’t nearly the creatures we are supposed to be.
  2. We are limited by our sin and the effects of sin in the world.
  3. We do things out of love, but sometimes these things are not all that appropriate (Grandpa taught her the only dance he was familiar with); it’s a good thing that the love in our intentions is powerful enough to eclipse the inadequacy of the results.
  4. To be naïve is not the same as to be innocent.
  5. Even in our brokenness we can be a blessing to others.
  6. Actions are more powerful than words (the scene where Olive brings Duane back into the bus), and that’s why the Incarnation is so incredible.
  7. Human beings were made for community and within community we can transcend our individual weaknesses.
  8. Grace, forgiveness and LOVE are incredibly powerful.
  9. Self-sacrifice is fundamental to the expression of love.
  10. Suffering is important for growth.
  11. The world’s standard for winners and losers is completely wrong.
  12. There is a loving presence at the centre of the universe that orchestrates all things for out good.
  13. Life is tragic and beautiful and also pretty funny.
  14. Beauty pageants are stupid.

The Demonic and the Stupid

In Books, Movies and Television on October 5, 2012 at 10:39 pm

I went to see Looper on opening night.

There’s plenty to talk about in this movie, but too many people haven’t seen it yet and I don’t want to spoil it for them.   But my experience in the theatre that night had me thinking that two more points should be added to the list that I started in the last post (Read “. . . Will We Watch?”).   There, I suggested that we might consider having two standards regarding Language, violence and sexual content in movies.   Movies that explore what it means to be human can have greater latitude for including this adult content; a film that is just for entertainment, less so.

The principle is: language, violence and sexual content can be a means to an end, but not an end in themselves.  To these I’d like to add the demonic and the stupid.

One of the films previewed before the feature presentation was Sinister.  The preview scared me spitless.  I cannot declare with certainty that this movie even has a demon in it, nor can I say with certainty that that this movie is using the demonic as entertainment.  But, I think, based on the trailer, it’s likely.

Even if it’s not, I know that this type of movie is not good for me to see.  This is a bit tangential, but an important point when it comes to movie viewing.  Not everyone can view everything.  For some, sexual content needs to be avoided as a matter of course.  For others, this isn’t an issue, but violence is.  For me, it’s the demonic.

Even though the demonic in The Exorcist is a means to an end, this type of content is something I avoid.  Dicerning movie viewer need to know themselves.

The Exocist (1973) is such a film in that it deals with important themes and in many ways it affirms Christian understanding of reality.   The presentation of the demonic was a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.  This is more than can be said of the flood of “supernatural thrillers” that followed.  Like sex, and violence, the demonic is not to be glorified or celebrated or simply exploited for entertainment purposes.

Nor is the stupid.  I was reminded of this by Jeff Daniels.

Jeff Daniels plays the role of Abe in Looper.   He also played Harry Dunne in Dumb and Dumber (1994).   I admit some parts were pretty funny and a little clever.  This is probably one of the best in the genre—but it spawned a long string of movies that celebrate utter stupidity.   Most fall far short of clever and don’t have the same level of talent (Daniel’s co-star was Jim Carrey).  These movies compensate for their lack of cleverness and comedic talent, with more stupidity and crudity.   I’m not sure if it’s even possible to have stupidity as a means to an end.  Maybe that’s why most of these movies are simply stupid, and because we can’t send them to their room for misbehaving, we can only ignore them and hope, that without an audience, they will stop.

Language, Sex, and Violence — Will We Watch?

In Books, Movies and Television, Christ and Culture, False Dichotomies - the lines between on October 2, 2012 at 5:00 pm

“If it’s not appropriate for children, it’s not appropriate for anyone.”

I’ve always had trouble with this idea, because if I took that approach, I’d no longer be able to read my Bible.

I have been told by those who can read the original languages in which the Bible has been written that some of the language is pretty course, especially in the prophets. And you don’t need to read the original language to find sexual content both the beautiful stuff, like The Song of Songs, and the repellant, the story of Lot and his daughters (Gen. 19:30-36) comes to mind. There’s also plenty of violence. When I was young, my imagination played the tent peg story (Judges 4:21) and the murder of Eglon (Judges 3:12-30) clearly on the screen of my mind.

The good folks down at the Skeptics Annotated Bible give the following, tongue in cheek, review of the Bible using the same categories that some concerned Christian groups give to movies:

• Sex/Nudity: 197
• Drugs/Alcohol: no information
• Violence/Scariness: 957
• Objectionable Words/Phrases: 180

Their jibe does make a point.

Rather than using the MPAA rating system (Read Post “R Rated Movies”) or a misunderstanding of Philippians 4:8 (Read “Dog Poop in the Brownies”), I would like to suggest a new standard by which discerning parents, can determine what movies to watch with their older children or patronize themselves.

It is not the language, sexual content and violence in and of themselves that should keep us from reading the Bible. It is not the presence of Sex/Nudity, Drugs/Alcohol, Violence/Scariness or Objectionable words/Phrases that should prevent us from going to movies.

It is how they treat these things. If they treat them as the Bible does, then we can watch them. Or even OUGHT to watch them? You see, I’m not just looking for a loophole to get away with watching whatever movie I want. I believe that by encountering this art form makes us better neighbours.

Art—and movies are art—is a dialogue about what it means to be human. It explores the good and beautiful; it also explores the evil and sin; and it explores the need and longing for redemption. Experiencing art broadens and deepens our experience and, therefore our understanding of our neighbours. Understanding the language of film, and how to talk about it, makes us better able to attend to, and even contribute to, the dialogue and, thus, be more effective servants to God and neighbour as we partake in Christ’s redemption of creation.

Art has this serious purpose, but it can also be fun. This distinction is important when we talk about movies and some of the more adult content they often contain.

Movies have two functions that occupy points on a continuum. On one side are movies which are made to provide consumers with pleasure or entertainment. Commercial success is the primary goal so these movies are designed to help large numbers of people to escape the tedium or stress of their ordinary lives. This is not in itself a bad thing. Because they want to attract as many viewers as possible, they have to provide a good product, and they need a PG rating, so they don’t have strong language, nudity, or realistic violence.—if successful, everybody wins. I would classify The Avengers (2012) or Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) as a film that occupies this end of the spectrum.

On the other end are movies that are made in the hopes that it may broaden, deepen or sharpen our awareness of the human experience; these bring us into reality, rather than provide an escape from reality. These have a more artistic purpose and they demand more from us in that they attempt to bring us more deeply into life’s joys and struggles, while they and often produce empathy in the audience. Precious (2009) or Ordinary People (1980) perhaps fit into this category.

Because this is a continuum, movies usually occupy some point between the two ends of the spectrum. Some lean toward the entertainment side, but still tell us something about life—Finding Nemo. Others tell us something serious about live, but while they do it, they entertain—Little Miss Sunshine.

How much language, sexual content and violence we are willing to tolerate in a film has something to do with where it is on the continuum. Movies that are on the entertainment side of the continuum ought to have a minimum of language, sexual content and realistic violence. These things are a means to an end, and they ought not to be an end in themselves. If they are presented as such, discerning viewers will avoid them.

But because language, sexuality and violence are a part of the human experience, they can be in the sorts of films that bring us into reality. Context matters a great deal here. The nudity presented in Spielberg’s, Schindler’s List (1993) is much different than the nudity presented in American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile (2006). The first shows the humiliation and abuse of women in a very dark time in human history, and the other objectifies women for the viewing pleasure of its male audience.

I have never been impacted by a scene of violence as much as the opening scenes of A Time to Kill (1993). 10-year-old Tonya Hailey is brutally attacked by two rednecks. These two white racists are caught boasting about what they did to Tonya. Her father, played by Samuel L. Jackson is understandably distraught and, recalling an incident a year previous when four white men were acquitted after raping an African-American girl in a nearby town. He is determined that justice will be done. So he shoots and kills the smirking rednecks as they leave the arraignment.

The violence of the initial attack is intense, but it was necessary for us to share some of the horror and violation of the act, so that we could empathize with the distraught father who killed the men who attacked his daughter. The rest of the film involves his trial for murder. There is no doubt that he is guilty, but we understand his actions because we watched the event that motivated his decision to kill. Had you read this story in the newspaper, you’d likely be able to offer a flippant opinion about who’s right in this case, but by your participation in the violence, the issue is at least more complicated and your empathy makes you a better neighbour.

The violence in this movie is not the end, it is the means to an end, and that end is the honest exploration of the human condition.

There are some movies that seem to say something significant about life and human experience, but are really presenting sentimental and over simplistic views of life. One such movie is Remember the Titans, which the filmmakers would have you believe is a realistic representation of how a football team overcame issues of racism and hatred to win the state championship. Although, based on a true story, racism in the real world is not so easily dealt with and movies that tell us that it is are not doing us any good.

The following analogy might be helpful.
• The movies which are just for entertainment are like home-made apple pie with a scoop of good quality ice cream a la mode; they are really good, but you oughtn’t have a steady diet of the stuff.
• The artistic film that bring us into reality is like a well-balanced meal—I’m thinking turkey dinner here—they are good for the soul.
• Then there’s the TV-dinner type movies that pretend to be saying something about life, they got turkey and vegetables, but they are really giving us such a simplified version of reality that we’re better off eating the pie.
• The ones that are full of sex, violence, or base humour are analogous to chocolate covered dog poop—they might look good in the trailers, but you won’t like the taste it leaves in your mouth.

“R” Rated Movies

In Books, Movies and Television, False Dichotomies - the lines between on September 24, 2012 at 12:39 am

It happened again today. I sometimes show clips from movies to illustrate the tools we use for literature can be pulled out of the tool box for engaging movies as well.  Today’s lesson was Allusion.  I had just hit play on the movie There Will Be Blood (2007) and the big “R” shines on the screen.  From some dark corner in the room a student gasps and says, “My mother won’t be happy I’m watching this.”

It suits my educational purposes to show only the first 10 minutes of the film, until Daniel Day Lewis holds up his oil covered hand in Macbethian fashion and my point is made.  We never get to any of the R-rated content.

An R rating is given by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to a film if the language, sexuality or violence is considered inappropriate for children under 12 years of age and it recommends parental guidance for those under 17.

The student comment was a joke, but it indicates the reality that the MPAA rating system is being used by parents, even Canadian parents, to decide what movies they will allow their children to see.

This makes some sense, since the purpose of the rating system is to give parents some idea as to the level of language, sexuality and violence in the film.  And we ought to be concerned about these things.  Harsh language, sexuality and violence are unsuitable for children.

The problem here is that it assumes that language, sexuality and violence are all we should be concerned about.  However, by relying too heavily on the rating system, some movies that are rated “G” or “PG” are watched, without supervision, that shouldn’t be.  Further, when adults restrict their own viewing, or that of their older children, using the MPAA rating system, some movies that are rated “R” are not being watched that should be.

Let me illustrate what I mean using two movies: Remember the Titans, rated “PG” and Crash, rated R for language, sexual content and violence.  Both of these movies seem to explore themes related to racism.

Dove Foundation reviewers have no problem recommending Remember the Titans to families.

“Well hurray for Hollywood! At last – here’s a story about overcoming bigotry told without profanity, exploitive sex or excessive violence. What’s more, it’s downright entertaining. . . .  If a film is done right, no one is going to leave the theater let down by its wholesomeness.”

One of the things the reviewer got right is that it certainly is an entertaining.  And if they are saying that we ought not indulge in movies where profanity is pointless, sex exploitive and violence excessive, I also agree with them.  But, I would object if they were suggesting that profanity in a movie is inherently wrong, that all sex is exploitive and that any violence is excessive.  They go on:

“[W]e approve of [Remember the Titans] because it represents a concerted effort to tell an uplifting story without the usual ratio of obscene and profane material. If that sounds like a Hallmark card commercial, well, what’s wrong with leaving the theater feeling hopeful and satisfied? Isn’t that the purpose of art – to uplift the spirit of man?”

 Actually, it’s not the purpose of art.  There are two limited understandings of the role of art.  One is that it must contain some moral instruction and the second, it must be beautiful.  Art may be beautiful, and it will, on occasion uplift the spirit of man, but it ought never do so at the expense of the truth.  If it does it will legitimately be labeled “bad” art.

Why is this movie “uplifting”?  It’s quite simple.  The movie begins with a few “good” people and a whole bunch of “bad” people.  The good people are not prejudiced and the bad people are.  The audience, very early on, is led to identify with the good people.  Through the course of the movie we shake our heads at the close-mindedness and cruelty of those racist people, but feel uplifted as more and more characters see the light and join our team of the generous and open-minded non-racists.  This movie reinforces our simplistic preconceptions of the world in general, and racism in particular.  Worse, it reinforces, rather than challenges our simplistic preconceptions of ourselves as “good.”

. . . crossing the line between evil and “good”

This movie draws too clean a line between good and evil which is not representative of reality.  It suggests racism is simple and easily overcome.  It denies the reality every human being is a racist.  Granted, there are degrees of racism, but to claim one is without any prejudgment on the basis of race, is like claiming one is without sin.  Remember the Titans tells us that there are many people who aren’t racist—most particularly the movie’s audience.  This movie allows the audience to sit comfortably in the knowledge that they are good and open minded citizens of the world and if the world were full of people like themselves, there would be no racism (and perhaps no sin) in the world.  Certainly an uplifiting message.

Sure, one function of art is to “lift up the spirit of man,” but it ought never to do so by lying.  If you are going to take Philippians 4:8 at its word, you are not going to allow your children to watch this movie alone without someone to help them see where this very entertaining movie falls short of the truth—even though there is almost no language, sexual content or violence in the film.

Another of art’s aims is to challenge our faulty preconceptions of the world and ourselves.  Crash (2004) won the academy award for best picture in 2005.  Like Remember the Titans, this film deals with racism.  Although commending this film for its acting and cinematography, a reviewer at the Dove Foundation criticizes it because it “generates a very negative perception of America and its inter-racial relationships.”   In other words, Crash does not present a view of the world (or of America) consistent with that of the reviewer.  In this case, this fact ought to commend the movie rather than earn the critic’s castigation.

The Dove Foundation website gives a detailed description of all the sexual content, both shown and talked about, and it describes the acts of violence in the film.  Then it itemizes the language: 87 F, 17 S, 11 A, 10 N, 8 H, 3 B, 2 J, 3 C, 7 G/GD, 1 D, 2 OMG, 4 P.  I’m not even sure what all of these things mean, but I think it would be a sin for me to sit and try to figure them all out.   For all these reasons, the film does not earn Dove Foundation Approval Rating. Granted, this rating is based on suitability for families.

Now, I want to be clear, this movie is completely inappropriate for younger children.  But, I recommend this movie to any adult who can see past the content.  Why?  Because it’s “excellent” and “praiseworthy”—it’s very well crafted—but also because it’s “true.”  It gives us a picture of the world in that we see good and evil, not clearly embodied in individual characters, but all mixed together.  The characters I initially judged as “good” do bad things and “bad” people, good things—eventually the categories don’t work anymore.  When you get to this point, you have taken some important steps away from racism.  I come away from this movie convinced that racism isn’t simple, nor is it a problem only out there somewhere, but resides in every human heart, most significantly in mine.

This movie doesn’t uplift the viewer, but challenges his assumptions—his prejudices.  It’s not a pleasant experience, but it is honest and good.

And true.

There are many movies out there that ought not to be viewed by anyone, let alone children—some of them are rated G.  It is likely that more of them are rated “R,” and ought to be avoided for their treatment of language, sexuality and violence.  But there are also those that are not only well crafted, but tell us the truth about ourselves; sometimes the content that earns it the “R” rating, actually helps it to deliver this truth in a meaningful way that changes us for the better.

Finding Nemo and The Belly of the Whale

In Books, Movies and Television on September 13, 2012 at 12:12 am

My students use the word epic to describe anything that is really awesome.  You might be surprised to know that Finding Nemo has a lot in common with some of the stories which are legitimate epics.   Like the Aeneid and Odyssey, Finding Nemo is about a hero on a journey.  Maybe calling it epic is a misnomer, but I will certainly call this story mythic.

SPOILER ALERT:

Toward the end of the movie, Marlin finds himself in the belly of a whale.  What happens to Marlin there is an archetypical event.  Archetypical in that it is a type of event that turns up again and again in stories across a broad range times and cultures.  One of the most familiar, of course, is the biblical Jonah.

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 w hale” 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?  (Donald Miller explores this idea in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and a program called Storyline, which will be released the day before Finding Nemo 3D).

Although Dori isn’t necessarily supernatural, somehow Marlin has a helper which couldn’t be better suited to guide him.  Dori is Marlin’s opposite.  She has what Marlin lacks.  Their difference is symbolically represented in colour.  Marlin is white and orange; Dori is black and blue (blue is opposite orange on the colour wheel).  More importantly, Dori has no short term memory.  Dori can’t remember; Marlin can’t forget.

On the perilous road of trials the hero learns a great deal.  And Marlin has a lot to learn.

Marlin’s world is simple—too simple.  He sees the world in the simple terms of safe and dangerous—good and evil, if you will.  The ocean beyond the drop off is simply very dangerous place and evil and you just don’t go there.

On the road of trials, Marlin learns that his worldview is not adequate and that the world is more complex than he always believed.

His first lesson is that what appears dangerous isn’t necessarily so.  The three sharks are actually very nice fellows.  But they do have some very dangerous weaknesses.  This encounter seriously challenges Marlin’s binary thinking.

The next encounter on the watery road of trials is with the mindless malevolence of the abyssal angler fish.  This encounter, although confirming Marlin’s paranoid worldview, shows Marlin that evil can be overcome.  Not only does he overcome evil, he actually uses it against itself when he employs the fatal lure to shed light on Dori’s reading of the Sydney address on the ski mask.  He had to overcome evil in order to acquire essential information for the completion of his quest.

Then next trial follows the conversation with a school of fish that teases Marlin.  Felling slighted he wants to move on as quickly as possible.   Because he’s not in the mood to listen, he misses vital information.  Dori hears, but, of course, forgets the warning the time they get to the rock.  She doesn’t know why, but she thinks that they should go through a cleft, and not over the rock.  Marlin ignores Dori’s input and chooses the latter route based only on appearances—the cleft looks more perilous, but again, appearances deceive.

Because of his impatience and arrogance, he is forced to deal with the jellyfish—evil here is passive.  It is Marlin’s foolishness that is the agent in this episode—he’s responsible for this one.

The road of trials has problematized Marlin’s worldview.  Good and evil are not nearly as simple as before—he learned that what looks evil might not be, what seems good might be dangerous; he learned that good isn’t the same thing as safe.  He also discovered that sometimes we are a bigger problem that what we call evil.

Marlin and Dori have earned a rest and they find it on the EAC with a bunch of sea turtles.  This is actually a time of preparation that often precedes the greatest trial the hero faces on his mythic journey.

The most important part of this preparation is instruction on parenting from Crush, the turtle, who functions as mentor.  Marlin observes Crush’s parenting in action.  Squirt, Crush’s son, accidently drops out of the current.  Marlin is alarmed and ready to solve the problem for the young turtle.  Crush stops him saying, “Let us see what Squirt does flying solo.”

The young fellow regains the current on his own and is ecstatic. “Whoa, that was so cool! Hey Dad, did you see that?  Did you see me!?  Did you see what I did?”  This is the feeling of accomplishment that can only come with facing and overcoming difficulty.  This is something that Nemo has never experienced, and likely won’t unless something changes.

On the journey the lessons have been taught, and this last piece of wisdom imparted by Crush applies all the lessons to an act of parenting.  Marlin now has the knowledge, but this knowledge has not been internalized.  Marlin still hasn’t really leaned—knowing is not the same thing as doing.  Before Marlin can rescue Nemo, let alone be the father that Nemo needs, the fear resulting from the death of Coral and family must die.  This happens in the belly of the whale.

Marlin bashes his head against the baleen wall.  He can’t get out. He blames Dori.  He has no hope.  The quest is doomed and he will not be able to tell him how old sea turtles are.  He laments, “I promised him I’d never let anything happen to him.”

Dori says, “That’s a funny thing to promise.” She explains, “You can’t never let anything happen to him then nothing would ever happen to him.” This is essentially what Crush told him, but his fear will not allow him to live it.

The whale stops and the water begins to drop.  Dori trusts her partial understanding of the whale’s instructions go to the back his throat.  Marlin has a lot more difficulty trust.  He is convinced the whale is eating them.

Hanging onto the surface of the whale’s tongue above the abyss of the whale’s throat, Dori tells Marlin, “He says it’s time to let go.”  Literally, let go of the tongue, but also to let go of the tragedy in the past that has shaped his worlview.  This can no longer define his life, and it certainly can’t define Nemo’s.

“How do you know something bad isn’t going to happen?” he asks Dori.

She replies, “I don’t.”

There is nothing else to do.  He has to let go.  He releases his hold on the tongue and plummets into darkness.  The downward movement is symbolically toward death, but the fall changes into the upward movement of resurrection.  He and Dori are propelled out of the whale’s blowhole in a spray of water.

They are in Sydney.

Campbell says, “Allegorically, then, the passage . . . through the jaws of the whale [denotes], in picture language, the life-centering, life-renewing act.”  The hero’s emergence is a rebirth.    

We know what happens next.  The hero is now ready to complete his quest and after the belly of the whale, success is virtually assured. Marlin, with some help, successfully rescues of Nemo.  This is a victory, but the real battle had already been won in the belly of the whale.

We know Marlin has truly been transformed for on the journey home, he allows Nemo to risk his own life to save many fish caught in a net.

There is a moral to the story; this movie offers some pretty good advice on parenting.  But, like all the great stories, it bears far deeper truths than this.  These are universal truths that are repeated in the world’s literature, significantly the Bible.

Here’s the beginning of a list:

  • 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.

What is the mechanism behind this these universal ideas being found in the world’s literature, and Finding Nemo?  Some say these are evolved patterns, but I’m living as if the mythic truths in all stories echo the Creator’s one story that culminates with the birth, death and resurrection of Christ.

Either way, I don’t think you can deny that this film is far more than a morality tale about over-protective parenting.