Thoughts On: Finding Nemo - The Family Circle Of Trust: Adventure & Nemo pt.1


Finding Nemo - The Family Circle Of Trust: Adventure & Nemo pt.1

Thoughts On: Finding Nemo (2003)

It has been too long since we last talked about Finding Nemo, but, today we continue the mini-series. If you need to catch up, or refresh your memory, please click here.

Previously when talking about Finding Nemo, we explored the foundations of this film in the Family Circle of Trust and how such a structure is partly rebuilt with the help of Dory. Today, we'll be looking at both adventure and Nemo's role in this narrative. But, to start, we have to take a step back.

With this image from the opening, we have a symbol of Marlin's broken sense of collective and individual identity; he is no longer a husband when his wife dies, he is no longer the father he thought he was going to be when he discovers that all but one of his children are gone, and he is no longer the man he thought he was when he wakes up to find out that almost everything he once had has slipped through his fingers. There was then once a unified halo around Marlin's being; he found a balance between the chaos of the city and the chaos of the big ocean in suburbia...

... he found a balance between the anima and the animus within himself with the help of his wife...

... and he found a balance between life, death, the present and the past with his children...

However, now these symbols of unity have been relegated to abstract symbols or mandalas:

There is then tragedy and solemn beauty in these images as we can understand them to signify the birth of a new man, a new father and a new husband from the abstract chaos of life. However, Marlin did not emerge from this womb of darkness and ambiguity a fully unified and functional being. After all, he does not know how to balance the anima and animus within himself, he does not know how to confront and be at peace with the world and he does not know how to give what is best to his son anymore. Because a guiding moon cannot always lead us through life from such a silent and insurmountable distance, something needs to fall down to earth. Thus comes Dory...

As we have already explored, Dory is the manifestation of a tangible anima: she is not just a moon shining down, but a real 'person' who can hold Marlin's hand and walk him through darkness that even a moon cannot pierce.

However, before Dory manifests, emerging from a symbol of new unification comes Nemo...

As we would expect, however, the scar that marked the egg's casing also marks Nemo: the scar becomes Nemo's lucky fin. Nemo's atrophied and shrunken fin is both a blessing from the past - a reminder to Marlin that tragedy didn't entirely consume his life - and a weight on the present. In short, Marlin sees Nemo's lucky fin to be a marker of debilitation that he clings onto as to hold Nemo close to home and out of school.

The scar we see on Marlin's mandala is one that sees him develop into an oedipal mother. This is a common archetype that we have discussed numerous times on the blog, but this is essentially a mother who has a propensity to coddle her child so much so that they stop growing and remain forever their child so that they, the mother, never become an individual adult again, rather, an entity of self-sacrifice who is addicted to giving all of her sustenance and time to a child. Interestingly, the oedipal mother can be thought of as a false messiah masquerading as a sacrificial hero. She is then a saviour for someone not in need of saving and self-sacrificial for someone who already has enough. The mechanics of the oedipal mother are then not strictly feminine for the fact that she is so heavily bound to a traditionally male archetype: a Christ-like figure turned false. Marlin as an oedipal mother is a brilliant expression of this truth for he transitions away from being a bold adventurer (who is inherently self-sacrificial) to being an oedipal mother wanting a child forever hanging off of her apron strings.

Looking again at Nemo, we can see that he inadvertently had Marlin embrace his anima to a degree so extreme so that it plastered over the scars of his unified being. What this part of Finding Nemo reminds me of is a section of the film Life In A Day, an experimental movie that essentially takes 100s of submitted YouTube clips and stitches them into a portrait of humanity on one given day. One scene in this film sees a widowed father and his son who live alone wake up and get ready for the day.

As part of their daily routine, the two pay respects to their lost wife/mother at a shrine they keep in the corner of their small home. This tradition of paying respect to an important lost person, daily, monthly or annually, is seen across many cultures, and it seems to be a way of keeping in tact a family circle that has been torn apart and forced into the abstract. With the wife/mother of the Japanese man and his son present as a mere picture that symbolises the child's life and the father's memories, we can see that, though she is an abstract idea, she remains apart of the family through ritual. It is this ritualistic act that we can understand to be a glue that would keep a scar or wound such as this...


... sealed, but not plastered over, forgotten and left to rot. For the fact that we never really hear mention of Coral between Nemo and Marlin, we can suggest that this lack of ritual fails to preserve the abstract mother...

... and keep her a pertinent part of Marlin's family circle. This tragic oversight - which is, adding to the melancholy, never resolved directly over the course of this narrative - is what sees Marlin become the oedipal mother, and is what makes his journey through this narrative so difficult.

Whilst we have talked about adventure in quite some depth in the previous post, one of its most expressive attributes has not yet been mentioned: comedy. We shall not dwell on this just yet, but, as we move forward in the narrative to see Nemo go to school for the first time, this scene should be noted:

Marlin, a Clownfish, is not very funny at all - as is made brilliantly obvious with the facial expressions and body language throughout this scene. This unfunniness, or lack of humour, is a key marker of someone who is not a complete person. That is not to say that, if you're not hilarious, you're a failed human. However, if you can't entertain and engage people in a somewhat comedic or light-hearted manner, you are inherently seen to have something wrong with you. What's more, if you can't throw a punch of some sorts, you are seen in a similar respect: as a weird child that no one really wants to play with.

We see this idea expressed brilliantly with the three dads' reaction to Marlin's infuriated insult as he runs off to 'save' Nemo from the drop-off (suburbia): "Don't tell me to be calm, Pony-boy!". The trio here aren't at all impressed, instead, confused and left to conclude, "You know, for a Clownfish, he really isn't that funny", which is then said to be a, "Pity". This is a very subtle, but incredibly key moment, that we shall have to touch on again later.

However, moving ahead, at the drop-off, we see the devastating peak of a conflicting oedipal relationship:

Here, Marlin discovers that, if you limit and confine someone who wants to be free - even your son, a baby you once held in your hands - they will hate you. As Nemo says these devastating words, we can see that his eyes are disconnected from his father's almost as a signifier of the astonished embarrassment we see here...

But, whilst Nemo's features are somewhat open as he watches his father make a fool out of himself and fail to essentially find friends that are willing to play with him, his features are shrunken and tight here:

This indicates that he isn't apologising for his father with his body language as in the previous scene where he is both distancing himself from his father and trying to reach out to him. Rather, he is telling his father something about a truth that he cannot see and that is hard to articulate. So, whilst Nemo couldn't tell his father that he has forgotten how to engage people his age previously, here, Nemo is forced to tell him that he has forgotten how to be a good father. Nemo's averted eyes then do not necessarily indicate that he doesn't believe in what he is saying. Instead, it seems that, in this moment, he really does hate who his father has become, and finds it incredibly hard to face both that fact and the bearer of that devastating truth: his father.

This expression of shock is truly perfect as it seems that Marlin is suddenly aware of the truth. Moreover, his body language indicates that he is open to absorbing it. This contrasts the previous scene brilliantly...

... as Marlin, through body language, is no longer shielding himself from the true awkwardness of a situation by bowing his head or averting his gaze.

Here, truth has just slapped Marlin in the face, and he never saw it coming; he didn't realise that he became a man and father that a son would hate, and that his son would hate him for embodying the oedipal mother and restricting his freedom - which is essentially a right to independently confront chaos and fight for unity.

As a reflection of something we will jump into later on, we get a comedic break that cuts the harsh truth in this scene short and wraps it up with Marlin receding back into a broken persona as he explains away the conflict between his son and himself.

However, as Marlin shrinks back into a lie that Nemo hates him for, he loses his son, who is forced to become the adventurer that his friends dared each other to be knowing full well that they were never going to touch the boat.

This face, much like the "I hate you face", says that Nemo can't bear the sight of his father. However, for the fact that is body language is essentially saying "I can't be near you", we see that he has given up on Marlin and their family circle: he is ready to leave, and so he ventures out into the chaos that his father fears:

With his father as a cowardly devil on his shoulder that he can't bear to listen to anymore, Nemo takes a step into boots too big for his feet. The chaos of the world beyond suburbia thus ensnares Nemo:

With a touch of brilliant visual storytelling, we see Nemo turn towards this chaos and see his reflection:

Upon seeing that he is a mere child in the realm of the alien - trapped in the reflection of chaos - Nemo realises that he is in serious trouble. To push deeper into the subtext of this moment, it seems clear that Nemo never recognises the human: he only sees himself and the fear of those who look on at him:

What does Nemo then see in this reflection that strikes fear so deeply into his being? Does he see the little vulnerable boy that his father sees? Does he see the daredevil who made the mistake no one else was willing to make that his friends see? Conversely, what do we see in Nemo's reflection?

It seems that an amalgamation of everything we have so far discussed is reflected by those goggles. In such, we see a vulnerable little boy. However, we also see a boy whose mother has died and father has failed to reconcile with such a tragedy. Reflected back at Nemo is the weight of a terrible past that has suddenly been thrust onto his shoulders alone: he sees that he has become the mistake that fate will use to teach Marlin a potentially devastating lesson - and what a terrifying realisation it must be to see that you were born for this disaster, and that you may never escape its shadow.

It is at this point that we'll end for today. However, it won't be weeks nor months until the final part of this mini-series emerges. Tomorrow, part 2 will be up, so look forward to the conclusion.

Part IV

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