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Depiction of Mental Illness in Finding Nemo

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Although Finding Nemo (2003) is a family, fun animation film for children, it has deep layers of mental illness embedded within the movie that viewers tend to miss. The first character to be introduced is Dory, a pacific blue tang fish that suffers from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Throughout the movie, Dory gets easily distracted and often forgets a lot of important details. She explains that she also has short term memory in which she always forgets what she’s doing, where she’s going, and people’s names. Dory portrays this when she runs into a frantically swimming clownfish named Marlin.

Marlin, the father of Nemo, suffers from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Anxiety Disorder, specifically Separation anxiety from losing his wife and kids in a Barracuda shark attack. Because of this incident, he is very overprotective of his only son, Nemo because he is afraid to lose him. Separation anxiety is shown when Marlin finally brings Nemo to his first day of school after many attempts to bring Nemo to school for his first day. Marlin has separation anxiety from his son because of the fear that something bad will happen to Nemo. However, when Nemo gets captured during a school field trip by divers, it provokes feelings of fear, anxiety, and helplessness in Marlin stemming from the trauma he experienced years prior. As he frantically attempts to chase after his son’s capturers, he faces his fear and anxiety of the open ocean in order to save his son.

Another disorder portrayed is OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) shown through the characters, Jacques and Gurgle located in a fish tank in a dental office. Jacques, a Cleaner shrimp, and Gurgle, a Royal Gamma fish, both fear germs and contamination therefore, they obsess over the tank being clean. Both characters are seen consistently cleaning and their disorder is shown when they quickly clean Nemo shortly after Nemo’s arrival in order to rid the germs from the ocean that Nemo may have brought into the tank.

Although many of the characters can fill the DSM-5 criteria for many different disorders, we are focusing on Jacques and Gurgle. Both of their mental illnesses were most likely developed from trauma prior to living in the fish tank or during their stay with the other fish that live within the fish tank that have other mental illnesses such as dissociative identity disorder (Deb), PTSD (Gill), and neurosis (Bubbles). Their anxiety turns into germaphobia which brings upon the OCD of having to clean in order to decrease the anxiety (negative reinforcement). The obsession is identified as germs, whilst cleaning is the compulsion carried out. The book defines OCD as “recurrent and persistent” applying to the intermittency of the disorder present in Jacques’ and Gurgle’s daily life.

According to the DSM-5, all criteria are met for the diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. For which those criteria met, include recurrent and persistent thoughts and urges, repetitive behaviors such as cleaning in response to the obsession. The compulsions are carried out by Jacques and Gurgle because they feel as if they need to do it in order to avoid a dreaded event happening. These ritualistic actions and feelings clearly indicate the presence of OCD.

Overall, this movie showed that disabilities can’t always be seen and those suffering from one are able to lead a normal life. 

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Depiction Of Mental Illness In Finding Nemo. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from
“Depiction Of Mental Illness In Finding Nemo.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021,
Depiction Of Mental Illness In Finding Nemo. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 Mar. 2023].
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