Theme: Escape from the Jaws of Death
Finding Nemo opens in a world of pristine beauty. As light filters through the water, it exposes the profuse life and color of the coral reef. "Wow!, exclaims Marlin the Clownfish. He and Coral are much like Adam and Eve in their Garden home. Expecting their first children, Marlin and Coral are free, playful, and in love.
Joy turns to sheer terror as Marlin and Coral come face to face with the jaws of death. All of the beauty is destroyed in a few agonizing seconds because of Coral's one act of disobedience. She and the unborn children she tried to save are devoured by a sea serpent with ferocious teeth. Waking in his worst nightmare, Marlin is all alone; the world of beauty, Coral, and life are lost. All that remains in this dark and terrifying place is what he sees through his tears - one seed of hope. As his heart breaks, he makes a vow to his unborn son, "I promise I'll never let anything happen to you, Nemo."1
This is a picture of Paradise Lost. The world outside Eden is a dark and foreboding place where relationships are shattered and hearts are broken. Death now reigns, and fear captures the mind and heart. Vows made in a wounded heart are based on lies. Marlin cannot save Nemo; all he can do is imprison him in his own bondage to fear.
Marlin's heart is shut down; he no longer lives from it. Only one purpose keeps him going - to protect his son from anything -even life itself. His world is filled with fear and anxiety. He is a clownfish who can't even tell a joke. Nemo's heart, on the other hand, is free; he wants to explore and experience life. His mind is filled with beauty and adventure, and, like any young fish, he has fantasies about sharks and sea turtles. Father and son are set up for a great confrontation.
The scene at the drop off reveals some powerful truths. Suffocating fear leads to rebellion. Nemo strikes out for the boat when he is accused of being afraid. Possessive love is not real love, and it leads to hate. Nemo says, "I hate you!", when his father angrily orders him to return. And finally, disobedience leads to captivity, for as soon as Nemo touches the boat, he is "swallowed" by another sea monster...a dentist of all things! (Romans 6:23).
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:18a). The love for Nemo is greater than Marlin's fear, and this love casts him out into the deep ocean. He follows the boat!!! It is here in his moment of total panic and desperation, having lost all, that he cries out for help. "Will somebody help me?", and he runs smack dab into Dory. Who is Dory? Her name is significant. Dory is the diminutive of Dorothy, which means "The Gift of God". She is the "comforter". Her first words to Marlin are, "It will be alright; it will be okay." She is the "helper". She tells him, "I'm just your little helper." She is the one who comes along side to show the way (John 14:16). She can read and speak in unknown languages. She has the faith to counter his fears, the love that is unconditional, and the hope that never dies (I Corinthians 13). She will be his guide not only to help him "find Nemo", but also to help him find his true self, the one that was swallowed long ago. In order to do that, he will have to overcome the greatest of his fears.
Ferocious teeth are a major metaphor in this movie. It is the sign of being devoured by death. So, it is no wonder that Marlin's first step in "overcoming" begins with an incredible set of teeth - those of Bruce, the shark. Dory and Marlin are led to a literal war zone and into a sunken submarine to see just how futile overcoming in one's own strength can be. A little blood and Bruce goes nuts! It is here, however, that the directions to Nemo are found on the diver's mask.
Another metaphor is the darkness (notice the color change when Marlin awakens in the dark world). So, it is no wonder that his next step in overcoming his fears leads Marlin back into a world of total darkness. Dory swims after the fallen mask, singing her catchy tune, "Just Keep Swimming". (There is a lot of wisdom in that!). In the depth of darkness, she and Marlin are mesmerized by a deceptive light, which leads only to another set of teeth! Dory, who not only retrieved the mask from Bruce, now reads the address on it. In so doing, she forces Marlin to out swim the monster and trap it in the mask.
This small victory leads Marlin to believe that he no longer needs Dory. The fact that the school of fish will only speak to her and give her directions doesn't break his independent spirit. He will not listen to her when she warns him about the trench. Marlin swims by sight, and this he says has death written all over it. Once again, he tries to avoid his great fear, the sting of death, only to end up in a jellyfish forest. It is here that he learns the true cost of his lack of trust and self-willfulness. Dory's side is the one that gets pierced for his unbelief. Overcoming his fear and independence, Marlin goes back in for Dory. Without realizing it, Dory has become essential to him. Stung by the jellies, Marlin and Dory fall, but not into death; they fall into a very special place.
The East Australian Current is a world within a world. It is a teeming "River of Life". Here, Marlin lands on a sea turtle named Crush. Again, the name is very significant. The etymology of the word "crush" means "to gnash with teeth". Far from being "crushed" again, Marlin receives great wisdom and healing. "The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18). From this sea turtle that talks so totally awesome, Marlin learns that there is a world without fear, a world of freedom and trust. It is here, riding the E.A.C, that Marlin gets a new name and a new identity - "Jellyman". At long last, Marlin's healing and restoration begin, and he is able to share his story. This is an incredible story, and it goes forth. He is one dedicated father, and his adventure reaches the ears of his long lost son.
Nemo's captivity is very much like his father's (Exodus 20:5). He is trapped in a place of ferocious teeth and is due to be given over to the worst set of all..... those of Darla's! Just like his father, he is trying to escape the jaws of death, and just like his father, he has been given special help. First there is Gill (which means "Servant"). Having a marred fin like Nemo's, Gill initiates him into "Tank Hood" and gives him the new name Shark Bait. He is a friend that will ultimately make the supreme sacrifice to help Nemo escape (John 15:13). Nigel, the Pelican that hangs out at Angel's Cove, brings the good news of his father's story (Hebrews 1:14). Yet, it is the love of his father, a love that makes an extreme sacrifice (4800 teeth and a jellyfish forest), that gives Nemo the courage to be an over comer himself.
The Greatest Fear
Leaving the E.A.C., Marlin and Dory reach Sydney, their final destination. Only one thing stands between them and finding Nemo. It is Marlin's greatest fear. Together they have faced and overcome ferocious teeth, deep darkness, and the sting of death. Now they must face Marlin's ultimate horror; the horror of being swallowed by death. Seeking directions, Dory engages a whale when suddenly, they are swept into the whale's mouth. Totally trapped and exhausted from trying to escape, Marlin comes to the end of himself and the purpose for which he has lived - his promise not to let anything happen to Nemo. Dory gently reveals to him what a wrong and impossible promise it was.
Fear, however, still grips Marlin. It is almost as if fear has the ferocious teeth! He panics as the water begins to drop; he only sees through fear; "Half empty," he says. Dory sees through faith; "Half full," her reply. Then she does what only she can do, She trusts the whale's instructions to go to the back of the throat and let go. She doesn't promise that something bad won't happen, but she simply believes the whale, and believes that it will be all right. Marlin finally chooses to trust Dory and is resurrected with her to a new life. Now, he can wrestle his way out of Gerald's throat and jump into Nigel's mouth. He has passed though death, and the fear is gone!
Nemo, like his father, escapes the grip of fear (Darla's), passes through a death experience, and is resurrected to a new life all because of Gill's sacrificial bounce. Dory reunites father and son, of course, but now it is their turn to help release Dory. She has been captured in the fish net with all the colorless dark fish. Nemo, who has learned from Gill how to sacrifice himself for the good of others, jumps in and tells Marlin to have the fish swim down. It is a beautiful picture of when they work together as one, they become "over comers" and are set free.
The Grand Restoration
As the fishing net breaks, little Nemo becomes trapped underneath. Marlin races to his son and embraces him just as he did at the very beginning of the movie. It is the embrace of the father that revives Nemo and releases him from his foolish vow. "I don't hate you," he says. Marlin also is filled with repentance, and the relationship between father and son is restored.
Life on the coral reef is once again filled with beauty, love, and harmony. Dory and the sharks come to see Nemo off to school, and to watch Marlin release him in love. Love is the greatest over comer of all!
"And He will restore the hearts of the father's to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers." (Malachi 4:6a).
Scripture: Revelation 2: 7,11,17,26
Revelation 3: 5,12,21
Isaiah 61: 1,2
1. Nemo comes from Latin and means "nobody"