06/01/2018

Finding Nemo - The Family Circle Of Trust: Adventure & Nemo pt.2

Thoughts On: Finding Nemo (2003)


This is the final post on Finding Nemo. If you have missed a post, click here.


In the previous post, we introduced an exploration of this narrative through the theme of adventure and the character Nemo, and come to the point at which Nemo is captured.


With Nemo having looked into the reflection of chaos, Marlin is forced on to his adventure - which we shall return to momentarily. However, whilst Marlin makes his way across the ocean, Nemo is trapped in the grip of chaos: the fish tank.



This tank comes to symbolise a womb and a mother's arms for Nemo as it is in this place that he will have to travel through birth canals of chaos to be 'reborn'...


... before being able to one day outgrow and escape this place. There are clear parallels drawn between this tank and Marlin as the oedipal mother as Nemo, too, has to escape his father's grips and become his own person. There is an ironic tragedy imbued into this place, however, as Marlin was essentially a bad father. He wasn't a terrible father, rather, he was faulted in his ways and was consequentially punished harshly by the whims of nature and fate. Nonetheless, because Marlin became the oedipal mother, he forced his son into the arms of others to be raised by them in a way that Marlin couldn't manage.


With Gill and co. becoming Nemo's surrogate family, we then have a crushing commentary on parenthood: If you're not a good parent, if you don't raise your kids, they will be snatched away from you and raised by someone else. Luckily for Nemo, this 'someone else' is a tank full of good fish. Tragically for Marlin, however, he couldn't be those good fish for his son despite all of his efforts.

Taking a step away from Nemo's function in this narrative, let us jump into something that will seem completely irrelevant. What I am about to show you is a clip of stand-up comedy that may offend you, that you may find hilarious, but is nonetheless pertinent to our discussion:


An adage that Bernie Mac repeated - and says here - is that "the truth'll set you free". He says this with these words and with his comedy because he believed that he was saying the things that we all know are true, but are often too scared to talk about. And such is the role of a true comic in my view; they not only find truths in the world, but they bring certain truths that are difficult to talk about to the fore and discuss them in one of the few conceivable ways possible: through comedy. With greater articulation, in referencing Jung, Jordan Peterson has said that "the fool is the precursor to the saviour". Jung himself touched on this topic when analysing the Trickster archetype - who we can see to be often embodied by legend and mythology through creatures such as the coyote, the snake, the fox and the tanuki. All of these creatures pretend to be fools, or turn others into fools, as a means of revealing or exploiting truth. This truth may have a tinge of malevolence to it, but truth is always a fruit left hanging by the trickster. Consider the Adam and Eve myth, which sees Eve become a rebellious hero by providing humanity the knowledge of good and evil because of a snake. Consider Pinocchio, and his descent into slavery when he follows two foxes. Consider Studio Ghibli's Pom Poko which plays with this archetype consciously and precisely through the tanuki.

Turning back to Bernie Mac, with his Milk and Cookies joke, we see him bring truths from his life - the fact that his sister is in prison because of drugs and that he's been thrown into the deep end with her three kids - and embody the fool with his ridiculous animosity for the children. At many points, we, too, are made to be the fool. For instance, when he says that the kids are 2, 4 and 6, his response to the audience's "ooohh...", is "Oohh, shit! Come help me keep these motherfuckers!". In this little moment, our empathy is shown to be false, and thus Mac turns us into fools, revealing the truth that we find his predicament amusing more than anything else. This unempathetic relationship between audience and comic is intensified as Mac becomes a fool in demonstrating the many ways in which he is unsympathetic for his adopted children. He even exasperates the 6-year-old's predicament by homophobically denouncing him as a sissy. Whilst this and everything else that Mac says is ridiculous - maybe even reprehensible - we laugh, or at least I and a good deal of his audience laughs, because he is revealing a difficult truth. This truth is the fact that, though families are fucked up, you have to stick by them. The ingenious nature of his comedic trickery is his manipulation of the ways in which you can perceive his family (which includes himself) to be fucked up and yet still understand that they are bound together. This dissonance, this recognition of complex truths and sticky situations, is, in my view, why we laugh. And this laughter feels so good because we look darkness in the face together and come away unscathed and maybe even all the better for recognising it.

Now, what on Earth does all of this have to do with Finding Nemo? If you conceive of Finding Nemo coming to an end when Nemo is captured, you could imagine this to be one of the most tragic stories you've ever seen, much akin to the opening of Up. However, thinking of Finding Nemo as a complete narrative, you begin thinking about one of the most fun and satisfying Pixar films ever made. Looking specifically at the adventurous aspects of this narrative, we see a film comprised of irony and trickery. Consider, the one fish that saw the boat that Marlin is chasing having short term memory loss...


... consider their run in with vegan sharks...


`
... consider their accidental heroism...


... their playful game that turns tragic...



... an act of trust putting them in a belly of a beast...


... who actually helps them out...


... consider the long journey, all made for nothing...



We aren't rolling around laughing as some of these events play through. However, we are constantly being tricked and played with by what is initially a deeply tragic film. We can then understand the adventure of this narrative to be a lesson about the trickery of natural chaos and fate. A little like capricious deities that do horrific things to their creations, lead them astray, watch them suffer and commit horrific acts, adventure becomes an omniscient God of trickery in Finding Nemo. As a result, adventure becomes a force of life that Marlin can either cry or laugh at, but can never truly come to grips with. So, just like Bernie Mac didn't ask for his sister to be sent to prison, Marlin didn't ask for a barracuda to come and destroy his family. However, both find reconciliation through an act of foolish/naive sacrifice that leads them on a comic and exciting journey. For Marlin, this journey is a means of reconciliation with the fate that holds him inches above flames and keeps his outstretched fingers millimeters from salvation and is also the God that condemns him to this constant suffering. This fate and this God is adventure itself; it is Marlin's decision to, and call to, abandon the unity he once had to found something stronger. Marlin then does not know why his inner adventurer leads him to tragedy...


... and why his abandonment of adventure lands him in greater trouble...


However, what Marlin does figure out is that his relationship with adventure is not an easy one, and is also one that he can't just throw to the side. And such is a concept that is deeply embedded into almost all cultures through an idea of faith. There is no real reason to have faith in anything or anyone, but with a grip on something, we find power. And such may be the crux of belief; belief and faith don't save you, nor do they set you free: the truth does. Finding the truth is finding the strength to live your life and attempt to do so well and properly. Having an unconditional relationship with those truths you find is faith. For Marlin, one of these inescapable truths is adventure, and the another is his family, and thus he constantly battles with them as if they were omniscient Gods.

We have already seen these ideas referenced with comedy preempting Marlin's call to adventure.



If comedy is an act of finding and articulating forms of the truth, then being funny requires some kind of adventure. Marlin, due to the loss of his wife, done away with his inner adventurer, and this left him a broken person - eventually an oedipal mother. Following this, he not only losses his ability to be funny (as we see above), but also his ability to go out into the world and find the truth. And this doesn't just apply to comedy, but his awkward parenting - more so, his blind parenting:



Interestingly, Mr. Ray, an adventurer and explorer, attempts to help Marlin after truth slaps him in the face - after Nemo tells him that he hates him - with a touch of comedy...


... and is ultimately the courier of freedom and education for Nemo and his whole class: he takes them to the drop-off. There is then a clear parallel relationship that is distinguished over the course of this narrative between adventure and truth. The conflict that characters confront as they find themselves crossing between this A and B concerns reason and trust; faith and belief in the truth, in others and in themselves.

Taking a step back, it must be noted that, whilst Marlin's adventure teaches him about faith, Nemo's adventure teaches him a similar lesson using the same techniques. Trapped in the fish tank, Nemo has to then confront the fact that he doesn't have a father and, more subtly, that everything his father taught him about himself is almost useless. This nearly translates into the idea that Nemo never even had a father. However, whilst Marlin is fighting the trickery of omnipotent adventure to get across the ocean, Nemo is fighting his own father, whose faults have landed him where he is today. It is nonetheless the truth that Marlin is Nemo's father, and Nemo will not refuse this fact. Thus, he must find parents in those around him to one day lose them as to be with his real father and secure reconciliation.


If we make a jump into the final act to find characters that have embraced adventure and become tricksters themselves - true Clownfish if you'll have it - we see that, having persisted against a forces of trickery, Nemo and Marlin, and Dory for that matter, are allowed to come together for one final test:


Considering the fact that we have been talking about fish as humans on mythological journeys throughout this mini-series on Finding Nemo, I find it incredibly interesting that the actual humans in this film are almost like Gods in classical mythology who come down to Earth to force into play these huge adventures. The hands and tools of humans that dip into the ocean throughout this film are a little like Zeus, Hades and their Titans smashing down on Earth in Greek mythology, or Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva manifesting before people in Hindu mythology. The parallels are not perfect, but it is nonetheless intriguing to see how Pixar are creating mythology out of parables with humans as the omniscient beings. Seeing this as quite a common trend in the filmography of both Disney and Pixar may even say a lot about 20th and 21st century storytelling which largely lacks the literal presence of Gods.

Without going on much more of a tangent, however, we can see this final intervention of humans to be the last test of grit, strength and faith in the new Family Circle of Trust that has quickly been assimilated with the union of Nemo, Dory and Marlin.


The words that define this final struggle are "Just Keep Swimming". These kind of words echo resolutely in times of struggle; just consider the quite recently resurrected and very quickly bastardised phrase from Britain in WWII: ''Keep Calm and Carry On''. Much like "Just Keep Swimming", phrases that urge you to go on despite all else reflect our previous idea that faith and belief is a source of power and the only route to disguised and difficult truths despite the strife that comes with this journey and this power.

It is now then that we can recognise why the fool is the precursor to the saviour. The saviour sees, embodies and spreads truth, but, he has to first be a fool to earn that ability. Dory, Nemo and Marlin are all fools in the start of this story. However, they become each other's saviours by the end having taken individual and collective journeys towards reconciling with the ultimate truth that is they need one another as well as the personal truths that indicate that they are to forever struggle to be the people they know they should be; Marlin an adventurer and a good father, Dory slightly less forgetful and hopelessly lost friend and individual, and Nemo a free kid who can be proud of his dad.

Expressing the resolution of the core conflict of this narrative beautifully, we get another transition after an act of courage takes its toll on Nemo...




Here we see truth revealed before Marlin and so the mandala of his unified being bound to the eye of his son. Thus, there seems to be an implied truth in the connection of their perceptions; in understanding who Nemo is and how he views the world, Marlin finds a new guide in life. Putting to rest their lost wife/mother (which is signified by this transition in contrast to the one from the start of the narrative), Marlin sees this little egg as a real boy and his reason for living right before his eyes. What's more, the scar on the egg is truly embraced with a new understanding of the lucky fin as a blessing from the past, not a crutch that weighs down the present...


And, as you may expect, with this realisation of truth comes a smile and a laugh at the expense of all the trouble it took to get here...


Coming towards the end of things and not forgetting how important comedy is to the adventure, and all because of the role of trickery, we are signalled that Marlin becomes a complete person with a series of role reversals that end in a reflection of a previously crucial scene of failure...



The Clownfish is suddenly funny; a changed man on the inside, but also the same man who figures out how to make an old joke work again. Moreover, the oedipal mother is suddenly a trusting parent, ready to watch his son venture out into the world and discover greater truths for himself:




What we see forming as our characters move on in their lives together is a developed faith in who they are as individuals and as a collective family. Thus, we see a Family Circle formed with a foundation in Trust. So, in the end, Finding Nemo is not just about trusting your children to go out into the world, but is an adventure towards reconciliation and a journey of faith with deep complexity.

Before ending, whilst I think we covered this film in quite a bit of depth, I also think there may be room for more to be said. So, what do you think about all of the ideas in this series? And what more is there to be found in this film?

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