I delivered an earlier version of this review at a Film and Theology event in March 2012. It does contain spoilers for 2003’s Finding Nemo, but no spoilers for Finding Dory (on the grounds that I haven’t actually seen it yet).
• • •
Pixar’s fifth feature film became an instant classic when it was first released in 2003. Until Toy Story 3 came out in 2010, it held the record for most successful G-rated film ever released. It truly exemplified the ethos of early Pixar; though the studio is a master of technology and of beautiful animation, the real ace up their sleeve has always been the stories that they write. Pixar’s films are consistently touching, revealing, and hilarious, and the one that proved that they weren’t some fluke that got lucky was Finding Nemo.
Their stories are so good because they’re intentional about making them identifiable; whether the protaganist is a fish or a toy or an emotion, they think and act like real people. They want what real people want.
And they believe the lies that real people believe.
I’m gonna touch the butt!
The oldest lie in the world is “They’re just trying to hold you back.” Which makes it astounding that we still fall for it.
Nemo certainly falls for that line, right at the beginning of the film. He’s sure that his father’s overprotectiveness is keeping him from the joys of life (and, to be fair, he’s right). But Nemo’s mistake wasn’t believing that lie; it was believing that he knew better than his dad, and acting on it. He never thought he’d be kidnapped; “I’m not afraid!” led to “I bet I can go out farther than you!” which led to “I can touch the ‘butt!'” He was trying to prove himself, trying to pull back from his father…but the underlying mistake he made was the pride that led him right into the diver’s net.
He tried to find fulfillment in running away from his dad, but even before he was captured, it didn’t work. He was still mad. And as you can see in his eyes the question about what he’s going to do now, he’s caught up in the net and pulled out of the water, away from everyone he’s ever loved. He’s cut off from his father, and it’s his fault.
He touched the butt!
Now, I said earlier that “they’re just trying to hold you back” is the oldest lie in the world. How do I get that idea? If you look in Genesis 3, you hear it from Satan’s very lips. After Eve told him that the tree in the center of the garden was forbidden to them under pain of death, he said, “You won’t die. God doesn’t want you to have the fruit because he’s trying to hold you back. He doesn’t want you to become like him.”
And with that first lie, humanity was hooked like a fish on the line. The idea that God was holding us back from something greater stuck, and we’re still questioning him all these years later.
Not only was Satan’s lie wrong, it was the complete opposite of the truth.
Likewise, when He gives us a command, it’s not because He’s holding us back or trying to keep us from realizing our full potential. It’s because He created the world to work a certain way, and when we rebel against that, we are keeping ourselves from our full potential and greatest joy. We’re giving up fresh, pure water and trying to dig out wells that don’t even work.
Not that it stops us from digging. We keep trying to make our own way in the world, running further and further from God; sin snares us in a net under the guise of fun, and takes us even more impossibly far away from our loving father.
Have you seen my son?
Nemo ran willingly. But that didn’t stop Marlin from chasing after him.
That’s just what good parents do. It’s only since becoming a father that I understand this more completely. No matter how much of a brat my son is being, I’d still go after him if he was trying to run into the street. I’d still pick him up if he bumped his head on the table. I’d still rescue him as quickly as I possibly could. And Marlin is a good father; he races after his son, and it’s no cakewalk.
He risks his life several times, trying every possible way he can think of to get his son back. Driven by love, he faces sharks, anglerfish, seagulls, and the East Australian Current trying to catch up to Nemo. He puts his own life on the line just to be reunited with his child.
P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney
Marlin is an imperfect echo of God, but he is an echo. Even though God would have been perfectly just to abandon us to our fate in the massive ocean of sin we willingly went into as we fled Him, His love was too great to allow Him to do that. Instead, he pursues His people throughout the entire Old Testament, a pursuit which culminates in the arrival of His son, Jesus.
God pursues His people throughout the entire Old Testament, a pursuit which culminates in the arrival of His son, Jesus.
The painting echoes God’s attitude pretty well, I think. That’s the ferocity with which He pursues us. And, unlike Marlin, Jesus raises the stakes; He doesn’t just risk his life, He voluntarily lays it down! Then He takes the pentalty for our sin upon Himself, and brings us back to God.
All Drains Lead to the Ocean
You can’t find your way back alone. Nemo couldn’t, and you can’t. Even though you might escape one sin, you still don’t know the way back to your Father, and you will still get caught in another net. No, you have to be rescued. Every single day you have to be rescued.
Because every single day you run.
And every single day, you’re pursued by a father who can’t wait to hold you close again. “Lucky fin,” rebellious spirit, and all.
• • •
Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture! Enjoy Finding Dory this weekend!