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As a young child, I used to watch Finding Nemo on repeat. Finding Nemo as a child was about a fish who got lost and is trying to find his way back home to his dad. Now, as an adult through the lens of a theological aspect, it is shown that Finding Nemo is more than just a child’s movie.
Finding Nemo is a Disney animated film. Marlin and Coral, two clownfish, were laying and fertilizing their eggs in a coral reef. A predator fish attacks the family and eats Coral and obliterates all the eggs but one. Marlin dedicates his life to sheltering the one egg that survived: Nemo. Once Nemo is born, Marlin turns out to be overprotective, declining to give Nemo to have any freedom. Nemo has had enough of the protectiveness, so Nemo defies his father, leaves the safety of the coral reef, and heads out into the open ocean where a diver captures him. Because of his actions, Nemo ends up in a tank in a dentist’s room.
Meanwhile, Marlin is determined to find his son and bring him home. The story then has two parallel strands. Marlin is trying to get to his son, and Nemo wants to get back to his dad. Marlin is introduced to many new things because he never got out of his comfort zone. He is further helped by a companion, Dory, who has short term memory loss, but without the help, Nemo could not be rescued.
Simultaneously, Nemo must undergo an initiation ceremony and join his fellow captives in their vision to escape the tank and go back to the ocean. The fish have to rush because a not so friendly girl wants to take Nemo away as her pet. After hearing that his dad is out there searching for him, Nemo makes it out of the tank by going into the toilet; he is at last rejoined with his dad.
Finding Nemo allows us to open our minds to different theological themes that are resonated throughout the movie. The author Ostwalt helps us navigate through the lens of theological typology and in which this type of criticism can ‘define religion traditionally and will locate traditional religious symbols and categories in films’ such as Finding Nemo.
At the beginning of the film, the audience sees the interaction between Nemo and his dad, in which ‘Nemo is faced with a choice. He can obey his father and not venture into the Deep Water’. Or he can continue to go touch the ‘butt.’ He decides to go touch the ‘butt’ and finds out that there are consequences to his decisions, and with that meaning, there are consequences for being sinful. When we have choices, it leads us to a road to obeying and disobeying. This gives us an example of the theme of disobedience and capture. As we dig deeper into disobedience and capture, we can connect it to how one is turning away from God’s love because they see something more intriguing. Individuals can’t resist falling into corrupt ways; however, God is continually hanging tight and seeking after us to go back to him. We, humans, cannot be changed by the intensity of God’s adoration, yet all it takes is to work together to make the intensity of that discharging love a reality for other people.
Continuing, another theological theme that is widely seen throughout the film is the theme of loss and separation. This theme is dominant in the aspect that many Disney film’s hit upon this to show us that loss is inevitable, but it helps us remember memories and the way we felt. Loss isn’t just portrayed through Nemo and Marlin’s battle to handle their detachment from each other. When actually, the theme of loss begins once the opening scene starts when Nemo’s mom, Coral, is killed by a barracuda before Nemo was born. Marlin has to deal with his loss alone for a long time because Nemo never knew his mother and therefore was not as attached as his father. However, in this manner, when Nemo and Marlin are brought together at the finish of the film, Coral’s passing stays a loss that can’t be settled, ’emphasizing to the audience the harsh reality that loss is an unavoidable component of life.’ This film would not have been a film if both Nemo and Marlin had not learned the importance of loss and separation because it is apparent that they overcame the adversity of their loss, and they were to fight for what they want, which is to be together again. This loss and separation between Nemo and Marlin lead to more themes within the film, such as the importance of family.
From the getgo, Marlin is seen as a protective father who wants his only child to be safe because he did not want to lose him like he lost the rest of his family. It is seen that Nemo and his father have a rocky relationship in the beginning because they want different things for each other or themselves. They are struggling to define family and how the two of them fit together. Most of the film was seen with Marlin departing from the solace of his home and taking a chance with his life, again and again, trying to rescue and save Nemo. He put down everything he was doing to save his son. The scene where Marlin decides to save his son is a powerful scene because we are shown the love and willingness to do anything for his family. As I rewatched this scene with an open mind, it struck me because I know my mom and dad would do the same thing, which makes familial/ parental love so powerful. The familial and paternal love can be circled back to our Heavenly Father, as well. God was willing to rescue us and offer up his son, Jesus, to die for us. Jesus not only risked his life for us but gave up his life for us in which shows how much love he has for us. Through his passing and resurrection, ‘we can find forgiveness from our sins– our poor choices– so we can live forever in heaven with him.’ Overall, family love and the things we do for each other resonates with not only Nemo and Marlin but with the audience; we remember why we do things for the people we love and will continue to do things for the people we love no matter what.
Furthermore, another key theme is the theme of hope and despair. Hope allows us to trust that something good is going to happen, and this is mostly seen through the side characters. Dory is a fish that tags along with Marlin, in which she believes in hope and is optimistic about Finding Nemo. Although Marlin was full of despair when they first started with their journey, Dory taught him hope. In the scene with Dory and Marlin, Marlin had just lost a clue that could lead him to his son and is full of despair, but Dory remains hopeful and optimistic and begins to sing ‘just keep swimming.’ Dory is a character that helps us remember that out of darkness, we emerge into the light and can enjoy life for all the beautiful things it offers. That is why it is essential to have hope because, in the end, good things will come to those who are patient and loving. On the other side of the storyline, we have Nemo stuck in a fish tank filled with other fish who help him not become hopeless but hopeful that he will make it back to his father. A character that stands out is the fish, Gill. At first, Gill had no interest in Nemo, but sooner or later, he takes investment and is hopeful that he will get back home to his father, and the rest of the tank gang can escape. Sometimes being despaired can help us lead us to hopefulness and in which we can live a life of good.
This film very much alludes to many theological aspects, which helps us gain more knowledge on specific themes that are portrayed. In this case, Ostwalt displays what a theological type of film is; it is a film ‘that allows us to look at the method, a critical stance that draws from theological studies and a theological approach to religious studies. Within movies that have a theological type, they usually have concepts about justice, grace, hope, forgiveness, etc.’ Ostwalt’s article relates to the film Finding Nemo because although the film doesn’t explicitly talk about God, the film introduces ‘traditional religious symbols and categories’, which gives the audience a view on the importance of God and love and despair.
To conclude, the film Finding Nemo is an example of a theological aspect and criticism which lets us delve deeper into a religious standpoint. Upfront, it might seem like a kid’s movie, but it connects with the audience about loss and hope and love towards God, having the ability to find God because, ultimately, it helps us lead a better life, and our lives will then be filled with love.
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