Theme: Rescue, Rehabilitate, Release
Thirteen years after the release of their smash hit Finding Nemo, Disney/Pixar Animation Studios has returned to the Big Blue. Rarely does a sequel live up to its predecessor, but Finding Dory is every bit as funny, heart-warming, and profound as Finding Nemo. Yes, there is definitely a message for those who have special needs; but if you look a little deeper there is a message every human being needs to know and remember.
Beauty and Affliction
The film opens in the past in a world of pristine beauty. In this Edenic setting there are three Blue Tangs: little Dory and her parents, Jenny, and Charlie. Dory suffers from short-term memory loss and is worried she will forget her parents. Holding her in the tight bond of parental love they make her a promise; “We will never forget you, or you, us”. This love is unbreakable and unforgettable because it is inscribed on the heart.
The French philosopher Simone Weil wrote, “There are two things which pierce the heart: beauty and affliction.” The affliction in Finding Dory is not her short-term memory loss; this is just how she is uniquely made. What pierces the heart is Dory’s becoming lost in a dark murky world separated from home and parents, isolated and alone.
Every human being was created in the image of God. This Imago Dei is inscribed on their heart and makes them unforgettable to their Heavenly Father. Dory’s “lostness” in dark murky waters is the human condition in exile from God created by The Fall.
Memory and Longing
The opening scenes function like a prologue, the real adventure begins after the film title Finding Dory. In a rapid succession of scenes, Dory grows up and as she does the memory of parents and home fade. By the time she bumps into Marlin, the scene which precipitates her role in Finding Nemo, she has no idea who she is, where she comes from or to whom she belongs. She is truly lost.
Dory’s own story begins one year after Nemo’s concludes. Dory is living on the coral reef with Marlin and Nemo and being . . . well, Dory. An eventful day comes when she accompanies Mr. Ray and the students to observe the stingray migration at the drop off. Mr. Ray warns the young ones to be careful of the undertow. This word resonates with Dory. Then as the vast school of migrating stingrays swim by singing their song of going home and knowing who they are, Dory is sucked into the school and then knocked out. She comes to mumbling something about the Jewel of Morro Bay California. A memory has returned, she did have parents, she did belong to someone. This memory as fleeting as it is creates a deep longing in Dory; she simply must try to find her home. She cannot do it alone, and so she implores Marlin to help her. It would be impossible for three small fish to cross the vast ocean, but Marlin knows “a guy” who can help.
These scenes are so powerful because they are telling a profound truth. As human beings grow up they lose their memory of God their Creator and Father. They become truly lost in themselves until perhaps one day they hear a song of migration, of going home. Jolted, they realize they must come from and belong to Someone and a deep longing fills their heart.
The Jewel of Morro Bay
Dory, Nemo, and Marlin arrive in Morro Bay and are almost immediately separated. As in Finding Nemo, two parallel stories are being told. Dory is captured and taken to the Quarantine section of the Marine Life Institute. Like all Hero Journeys, she has entered the special world and is given friends - new (Hank, Bailey) and old (Destiny) to help her navigate and find her parents. Memories return guiding her like a well lit path until she finally reaches her home only to find it empty. Jenny and Charlie are not there but a purple shell remains triggering the most fateful memory of all. She lost her parents by going too close to the undertow and being sucked into the pipes. “It was my fault,” she mournfully confesses.
Nemo and Marlin have been on their own adventure trying to follow Dory into the Marine Life Institute. Through all their literal ups and downs Marlin is relearning old lessons, namely: Nemo’s faith is greater than his own fear and Dory’s joy and spontaneity is something he needs. When they finally reconnect with Dory in the pipes Marlin is able to make his own confession, telling her what he truly believes and assuring her she will be loved when she finds her parents.
There is great beauty in the scenes of Dory retuning to The Jewel of Morro Bay. Once she enters the special world she is surrounded by a community (Hank, Bailey, Destiny) who themselves are transformed, healed and set free as they help Dory.
Just what is the Jewel of Morro Bay? It is the Open Ocean Exhibit, a microcosm of all the Big Blue was originally meant to be. It is symbolic of Eden, God’s garden of delight which He intended to expand and cover the earth as the waters cover the seas.
Dory’s discovery of the purple shell is both heartbreaking and beautiful. Heartbreaking because it causes her to remember her part in being lost, beautiful because purple is the color of penance and she is brought to a true and deep repentance for having lost her parents.
The Pathway Home
With Hank’s assistance Dory, Nemo and Marlin make it into Quarantine and the tank filled with the Blue Tangs. Sadly, Dory learns her parents went in search of her years ago and never returned. Dory panics at the thought of their being dead and once again gets separated and washed down the pipes into the dark waters of the ocean. She is back where the story started, lost and alone.
In every Hero Journey there is a final descent into a type of death from which the hero is resurrected. Frantic at first, Dory begins to slow down and think swimming first toward the kelp, then toward the sand, where she discovers a path of shells. Following the path, she comes to a home surrounded by multiple shell paths radiating out from it. Jenny and Charlie have remained just outside the Marine Life Institute, laying out shells in the hope that one day their long lost daughter would see the shells and remember to follow them home. Suddenly out of the murky shadows Jenny and Charlie appear to Dory and the family is joyously reunited.
Seashells, especially the scallop shell, are a very early Christian symbol for baptism, spiritual protection, and pilgrimage. Dory has been on a pilgrimage to find her parents and her home. The shells given to her in childhood as a sign of love and protection now lead her out of death and into a grand restoration.
Rescue Rehabilitate Release
Remembering that her other family, Nemo, Marlin and Hank, are in need of being rescued, Dory assures her parents she knows how to find them if she should lose them again. Swimming back to the pipes, she calls upon her whale friends, Bailey and Destiny to help her. This community of self-sacrificing love is the real jewel of Morro Bay. Combining their unique gifts they pursue the truck and after a madcap chase manage to set the captives free. As Sigourney Weaver, the voice of the Marine Life Institute, announces its mission to Rescue Rehabilitate and Release, the song What a Wonderful World begins to play. The truck flips in slow motion into the ocean releasing all the fish and . . . no one goes to Cleveland!
Christianity has always maintained “Salvation” is a rescue out of death into the Life of New Creation. Very early the Gospel (Good News) was proclaimed in this manner: Christ Has Died, Christ Is Risen, Christ Will Come Again. By His sacrifice and death for sin, the Children of God are rescued. By His resurrection and giving of His Spirit they are rehabilitated (restored and returned to their original glory). Upon His return all the redeemed will be released into the glorious New Creation.
“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the seas.” Habakkuk 2:14
Dory’s story ends where it started, back on the Coral Reef. A new community has formed out of old members and new ones. The atmosphere has changed too, from worry and fear to love and trust. As for the Drop Off . . . well, it’s just one great view!