I have long loved the movie "Finding Nemo." It's a classic, hands down. And since Levi, well. . . I can sympathize with Marlin in a whole new way. So, when we were asked to chose a movie about love or death to analyze for my humanities class, Nemo was immediately on my mind. They don't come much better than that one.
This is my analysis of Finding Nemo from a Biblical perspective, focusing on the idea of love in the movie. We were asked to analyze the worldview of the movie, the interplay between Biblical truth and antithesis and the aesthetic features of the movie.
I first saw the movie “Finding Nemo” when it came out in the movie theaters in 2003. I wanted to go to a movie that my three year old daughter and I could enjoy together and I'd heard good reviews of it. It quickly became a favorite of ours and we bought it on DVD as soon as it was released. My daughter is now ten and has two younger siblings who have also both enjoyed “Finding Nemo.”
As a parent, I can appreciate and sympathize with the theme of parental love found in the movie. Since the birth of my son, I have had an even greater appreciation for the themes and lessons found in the film. My son, like Nemo, was a survivor before he was even born. It is a miracle that he survived to birth. My Levi also has a “little fin.” He is missing portions of several fingers on his right hand. Now, more than ever, I can identify with Nemo's father in the movie.
The nature of the world in “Finding Nemo” is both dangerous and peaceful. The contrast is very prominently featured. The scenes frequently move suddenly from a peaceful undersea moment to life-threatening danger and right back again in a moment. The ocean is calm and beautiful, but deceptively so.
At the beginning of the story, Coral, mother of our title character, and all but one of her hundreds of eggs are eaten by a dangerous predator. Even self-proclaimed vegetarian sharks can relapse into a feeding frenzy, angler fish are waiting in dark places to lure innocent fish close enough to make into a meal and seagulls are just above the surface of the water, ready to catch any fish careless enough to get close.
There are predators and prey in the ocean world of Nemo, and the lower down one is on the food chain, the more closely they must watch their step in order to survive. When Coral and her mate Marlin's budding family is attacked, they are caught in a moment of play. Marlin takes this lesson about danger too far and as a result, he becomes over-cautious and worried. He is especially concerned about the safety of his one surviving son, Nemo.
In this world, fish are seen by humans as a commodity, as evidenced by the capture of Nemo by a human diver. He is caught by a diver looking for fish as decorations for his dental office. Later we see a multitude of fish caught up in a fishing net. The predators in the ocean are not the only ones the characters in this world must be wary of.
This world is certainly not without redemption or hope, however. Even animals generally seen by the world at large as being blood thirsty predators can become kind friends. There is a shark support group that proclaims, “Fish are friends, not food.” Most of the “people” in this world are willing to help and have good hearts. Dory, the sea turtles and the pelican, among others, all step up to help Marlin through his ordeal.
Overall, this film suggests that the world is a generally good place, despite the dangers that might be faced from time to time. Trials can be overcome and hard times will be survived. The characters are kind and hopeful, overall and there is a sense of unity among the fish in the sea.
There are, as in most films, many things wrong with the world in “Finding Nemo.” The primary problem addressed in this movie is that people try sometimes to hold on too tightly to their loved ones. This may be because of previous trauma, like Marlin suffered when Coral and the other eggs were all attacked by the eel. No matter the reason, holding on too tightly to someone will only drive them away. This is shown in the film when Marlin, in his efforts to protect Nemo, winds up accidentally goading him into swimming into open water to touch a boat. His overprotective tenancies come to a head in a scene where he yells at his traveling partner, Dory, in a way that makes it obvious he is projecting his feelings toward protecting Nemo onto her.
God Himself has allowed us free will and the ability to sin and make a mess of things. Rather than physically prevent us from doing anything dangerous or wrong, He allows us to make decisions that are sinful and dangerous. He does this because of His great love for us and He teaches us to love in the same way that He does.
A variation on this theme is seen in the scenes that take place in the aquarium in the dentists' office where Nemo has wound up. The dentist, in thinking he is caring for his fish, has put them in a tank where some have become obsessed with escape and others have gone crazy. One fish is convinced that her reflection is her twin sister and another goes haywire when he sees bubbles. We even see a fish who has become a bit obsessive compulsive. The dentist means no real harm to the animals. He seems to genuinely like them. He just doesn't understand the effect his “caring” for them is actually having on them or how deeply they are affected by his intervention in their lives. We as Christians must watch how we “help” others and make certain that we are not, in our effort to love them, helping so much it hurts.
A smaller theme of what is wrong with the world is that people are not working together enough. Marlin goes through many struggles at the beginning of his journey that are caused by his lack of cooperation with Dory. Toward the end of the movie, a large school of fish is caught up in a fishing net. They are unable to escape because they simply don't work together. Each fish tries to swim away in their own direction and as a result, they wind up compounding the situation.
The remedy for the world is twofold in this film. The first suggestion made is that family and friends must stick together and work in cooperation with one another. Marlin discovers along the way that when he pools his skills with Dory's, they are better able to progress. The succeed because they learn to stick together and cooperate with each other. The fish in the tank are able to help Nemo escape because they all work together to come up with a plan and to create diversions. The fish that are caught in the fishing net are encouraged to work together and when they do, they break the net and free themselves. Loving others means valuing their skills and input and working in cooperation with each other.
Another remedy offered is that sometimes, loved ones must be allowed to take some risks. Overprotective tenancies must be curbed. Marlin first starts to see this when he and Dory meet up with the sea turtles. The young turtles are allowed to move in and out of the East Australian Current. Marlin is shocked that they would allow the young turtles to do something that seemed so dangerous. He is told by a wise father that the only way they will learn is to try.
This remedy is not seen as being what is best just for the protected, but also for the protector. When freed from the worry of constant supervision of his son and concern that something bad will happen, Marlin is much happier. The turtles are so mellow, in part, because they aren't worried about every little thing that might go wrong. Fear must not be allowed to paralyze.
The remedy for the issue of humans taking the animals around them lightly or treating them as a commodity is never addressed in this film. It is highlighted as a problem, but the artist(s) offers no solution. The audience is left to ponder for themselves what the answer might be to this problem. As this film is intended for a human audience, this is a very intentional effort to make the audience think for themselves what the impact of their actions is on other animals.
For Marlin, Nemo and Dory specifically, the future looks bright. Marlin has found healing from his trauma, Nemo is home and Dory has found a new family that loves her in spite of her terrible memory problems. New friendships with the sea turtles are being nurtured through an exchange student program and the sharks are still on the “wagon” and aren't eating fish.
For the world as a whole, the future looks bright. In spite of the dangers and trials that are out there, there is hope and good prevails. The characters are learning to work together in the ways that will heal the things that are wrong with the world and everything has worked out for the better.
There are some problems with the world for which no real resolution is offered. The fish from the tank finally manage to escape, however they are still stuck in the plastic bags that were intended to protect them when they were outside of the aquarium. We're left to ponder the effects of the dentist's hobby and the fate of these characters. There is no resolution offered for the issue of humans taking the lives of the animals lightly and the audience is left to assume that this problem will continue. This is done very intentionally by the writers so that the audience will leave and ponder on their own a solution for this problem in the real world.
Analysis of the Interplay Between Common Grace and Antithesis
There is a great deal of truth about love found in the film “Finding Nemo.” In fact, the story echoes several of Jesus' parables. Jesus often tells stories of people losing something dear to them and going out of their way to search for it. Examples of this are the widow searching for her lost coin and the shepherd leaving a herd of ninety-nine sheep behind to find one lost sheep. These parables are told to remind us of God's love for us and how He searches for us. This fatherly love is exemplified through Marlin in the story of Nemo. The father leaves everything he knows, everything he is comfortable with and goes off to find his little lost son.
It's rare to mention “Finding Nemo” so someone without getting the response, “Oh, that's a great movie!” The reason this story resonates so much with everyone who sees the film is because we are all God's children whether we know and/or admit it or not. That is built in or programmed into who we are as creatures made in the image of God. Stories about a parent trying to find a lost child strike a chord in us because we are all children of a God who searches for us, pursues us and we all desire that parent/child relationship with him. Our very nature cries out to feel the sort of love that will look high and low for us in order to return us safely home.
Love is not just an emotion. Love can be communicated verbally all day long, but what really counts is the actions that come next. Marlin's love for his son wasn't just talk or emotion. His love was action. It was hard work. Love is not just a fuzzy feeling: it is something that must be demonstrated.
The Bible never claims that loving people is easy- not even loving our own family. Real, biblical love is hard, but it's worth it in the end. Sometimes, we are asked to love someone who we might not consider very likable. Marlin is not exactly smitten by Dory's charm at first, but he has to learn to love her because he's “stuck” with her. In the end, Marlin is blessed with a friendship that he would otherwise have missed out on.
Sometimes, “caring” for someone isn't in their best interest. This highlighted by the way the dentist cares for the animals in his aquarium. In keeping them in such a controlled environment and doing everything for them, he is, in the end, harming them and their emotional well being. This is a similar theme to Marlin's overprotection of Nemo, but manifests in a different way. Marlin is sheltering Nemo instead of letting him learn and explore in healthy ways, while the dentist is doing everything for his fish and is in the end rendering them unable to fend for themselves. We see this come to a head when they manage to escape and find themselves trapped in plastic bags bobbing at the top of the water in the ocean.
Love can spur people on to do things never imagined to be possible. This sometimes looks like a parent going to lengths they never thought they could handle to save a child. Sometimes this is seen in surprising relationships with others. God calls us to love unlikely (and sometimes unlikeable) people and when we answer that call, lives are often changed in very unexpected ways.
There is not much antithetical thinking about love in this film. Since it was made to be a family friendly movie, it was made with values in mind that most people can agree are wholesome and appropriate for children. In American culture, this means the values and morals in the story are at least loosely based on Christian thinking.
Several of the characters show antithetical thinking at some point in the movie, but this is all either resolved by the end or it is exaggerated to highlight its inappropriateness. This includes the above mentioned examples of Marlin's overprotection of Nemo and the dentist's harmful “caring” for the fish in his aquarium.
There is one major point the filmmaker makes that is not completely in line with Biblical teachings. While the movie teaches that love conquers all and working together in love can accomplish anything-both of which are true- it leaves out a key piece. Human love alone cannot solve all the wrongs in the world. Our love must be through Christ, not through our own power. God is love and love is of God. Without Him in the center of our love, there is a great deal missing. Love without God is not the end all be all that it is shown as being in this film.
Analysis of the Aesthetic Features
The primary subject of “Finding Nemo” is parental love. It is the story of a father's journey to find his missing son. The film contains the idea that a father's love prevails over all obstacles. It also addresses how physical differences and family trauma affect the interaction between a parent and child. In the case of Marlin and Nemo, it affects it negatively at first and Marlin must learn how to work through the trauma and worry to strengthen their relationship and make it healthier.
“Finding Nemo” was written and directed by Andrew Stanton and was co-directed by Lee Unkrich. Stanton is one of the pioneers of this particular genre of film and has written many other films, including “Wall-E,” “A Bug's Life,” and all three “Toy Story” movies. The film was produced by Disney, who has long been producing animated children's and family movies, as well as Pixar who is the contractor who does the computer animation for Disney's films. The film was released in 2003.
The primary function of “Finding Nemo” is that of a family film. It explores themes that are considered “wholesome” and “inspirational” by the population at large in order to teach and entertain children, while providing entertainment for adults as well. The function of movies like this is slightly different than Disney films of the past that tended to be geared primarily toward children. This type of movie is made to be enjoyable by an entire family and appeal to a wider audience.
The medium of this piece of art is film. The elements used in this film are computer animation, actors' voices and a musical score. As with many Disney/Pixar pieces, this film includes well known voices such as that of Ellen Degeneres. The soundtrack is primarily instrumental and the instruments are arranged in such a way as to sound very watery and ocean-like. The music matches the film emotionally, as in most movies, but careful caution is taken to make the danger scenes exciting and emotional, without being too scary for younger audiences. The music is used to highlight the extremes of peace and danger in the ocean. It often goes starkly from being calm and soothing to being jarring and exciting.
The organization of this movie is pretty straightforward. Since the film is made to be appealing to children and adults alike, it was made with a forward moving, easy to follow organization. The score is laid out and timed to match up with the straightforward timeline and matches the emotions of the scenes as they progress.
Computer animated family films are a style first made truly popular with the release of the classic, “Toy Story.” Finding Nemo is a great example of the style. This style is similar to classic animated Disney films, but they tend to be set in more modern settings and have stories and characters that appeal to a wider audience.
Based on the “six cats” model of analysis, I find this film to be a wonderful, positive work. It doesn't focus on any major social or political issues or try too hard to preach at people. It is simply a sweet, well executed story and everyone loves it for that. The characters are endearing, the story touches everyone in some way and the audience walks away from it feeling good.
The experience of analyzing a movie in this way was a new one for me and I found it to be, overall, very enjoyable. While we often think about some of the aspects we talked about in the class, there is a much deeper understanding of the piece to be gained when all are explored in conjunction with one another.
The class as a whole was a great chance to explore a responsible Christian's role in participating in art. It offered a wonderful perspective on how we can evaluate all art, not just “Christian” art. I also appreciated the analysis tools that were taught in the class, such as the worldview questions and the “six cats” model. The applied summary paper has been the perfect way to round it all out and practice applying all of those tools.
Copyright: Charissa Clark Howe, 2010, all rights reserved
Copyright: Charissa Clark Howe, 2010, all rights reserved