The Gospel According To Pixar: Finding Nemo’s Resurrection

Continuing Mockingbird’s fascination with all things animated (and anything even remotely related to uber-genius Brad […]

Nick Lannon / 1.19.10

Continuing Mockingbird’s fascination with all things animated (and anything even remotely related to uber-genius Brad Bird), we present The Gospel According to Pixar, volume 3. To read previous entries, see Volume 1: Wall-E, and Volume 2: Toy Story.

I’m planning a Sunday evening series for the next few months called “Jesus at the Movies” (stop by if you’re in Jersey City)… so I’ve been spending a lot of time standing in front of my movie wall. I’ve ripped a bunch of clips from my collection, and am ready to start some good theological conversation. But I missed one. A parishioner asked me about the movies, listened to a few that I’d chosen, and then started talking about Finding Nemo. And he’s right…FINDING NEMO!

Remember the scene where Marlin (Nemo’s dad, played by Albert Brooks) and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) are trapped in the mouth of the whale? Aside from the obvious Jonah parallels, there is a lot of good stuff goin’ on in that whale’s belly. First of all, Marlin tries to get out of the whale’s mouth by pushing through the baleen plates (the toothbrush bristle-like stuff they have instead of teeth). See, he’s trying by his own effort. He can’t do it. He fails. His own effort fails him.

The water begins to drain from the whale’s mouth, and neither Marlin nor Dory know what is going on. Dory, who “speaks whale,” tells Marlin that the whale is asking them to “go to the back of the throat.” Marlin, a notorious worry-wart, says, “Of COURSE he wants us to go to the back of the throat…he wants to EAT us!” Suddenly, Marlin and Dory find themselves hanging on to taste buds on the whale’s tongue, with no water in the whale’s mouth at all.

The whale makes a noise, Dory (who, remember, speaks whale) says, “Okay,” and lets go. Marlon refuses to, thinking he’ll be eaten…but Dory tells him that it’s time…time to let go. Of course, this is a story point: Marlin has to realize that he’s been holding on too tightly to his son. He has to realize that he can’t protect Nemo from life. But the Christian parallels are actually pretty stunning.

Marlin, by his own effort, fails to escape from the whale’s mouth. In the end, if he holds on to the taste bud, he’ll die. There’s no water in the whale’s mouth. But Marlin THINKS that he has to hold on to live. The very thing he thinks is keeping him alive is killing him. He must let go, succumbing to “certain death” in order to be blown out of the whale’s blow-whole, his life saved. We try to save ourselves by our own efforts. We try to “be all we can be.” We can’t. We keep trying, we hold on. This holding on, the thing that we think is saving us, is actually killing us. It is keeping us from our Savior. Letting go, giving up, and succumbing to certain death is the only way we can live.

If Finding Nemo supports the necessity of death and resurrection, who are we to argue?

To order your copy of Mockingbird’s publication The Gospel According to Pixar, click here.

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22 responses to “The Gospel According To Pixar: Finding Nemo’s Resurrection”

  1. Fr Joe says:

    You've done it again Nick. Just yesterday after church we were talking about men's fears and how the popular view to overcome them is to "face them head on" "take the bull by the horns" " etc. But the only remedy that works is to stop the striving and die. Then, with no condemnation from Christ, he lives in us. The wives also agreed that they have a tendency to nag the husbands in taking the bull by the horns (they don't speak whale) and that usually isn't helpful. Love and support instead of judgment and demands usually wins the day (for husbands and wives, of course). Thanks for the insight – joseph

  2. Spherical says:

    Love it!

    I have always thought that "Dead Poets Society" was a great parallel of the life of Jesus.

    Intentional or not, truth is truth. Wish I was going to be in Jersey!

  3. John Zahl says:

    Great post Nick! I forgot about that wonderful part of the movie, and your point about holding on to the thing that is killing you is profound. also: I loved that Brotherhood of the Wolf movie and saw it twice in the theaters. But then again, I also saw Reign of Fire twice, 'cause I loved that one too. 😉

  4. Nick Lannon says:

    JZ – Reign of Fire (which I, ahem, OWN) is notable in that Matthew Mchonoguhyehehy chews a cigar with significantly more of it INSIDE his mouth than outside it. Also, the dragons still hold up really well. The plot, eh…

  5. Wenatchee the Hatchet says:

    When Andrew Stanton talked about Finding Nemo exploring the contrast of parenting out of fear or parenting out of love I had my suspicions there were Christian themes afoot. Then I saw WALL-E and felt more certain there was at least some Gospel behind what motivated Stanton to tell his stories. Then I read the interview he did with Christianity Today and it removed any doubt. Stanton may not be the uber-genius Brad Bird is but he's doing solid work. After years of hearing Christians in my neck of the woods talk about "going upstream" and "engaging culture" it seems as though Stanton was quietly already doing what some of those Christians were just talking about doing, which I personally find amusing (and not just because Stanton makes enjoyable cartoons).

  6. childofgod says:

    I have not seen the movie, but I am going to now. I know I am holding onto something, possibly more than one thing, that is killing me. I have yet to discover what it/they are,but, I feel the pain and pressure. Pray for me.

  7. DZ says:

    Wenathchee- Do you have a link to that interview?! I would LOVE to read it.


    p.s. has CT ever interviewed Bird?

  8. Nick Lannon says:

    childofgod – you've got it. we're praying for you.

  9. StampDawg says:

    Thanks, Nick. For a different and more critical Mockingbird take on FINDING NEMO, folks may wish to read this piece by Sean Norris:

    Sean sees the film as an ode to Pelagianism.

  10. childofgod says:

    Thank you, Nick!!

  11. Wenatchee the Hatchet says: is the link to the Stanton interview. I'm not sure of any Brad Bird interviews yet but if I find anything I'll try to post a link here.

  12. Nick Lannon says:

    somehow that link got cut off. here's another attempt:

  13. Nick Lannon says:

    huh. weird that it does that. anyway, you can go to that page and search "Andrew Stanton" and you'll find it.

  14. Todd says:

    CT asks some uninteresting questions, but here's a great one-liner from Stanton:

    "The theme that I was trying to tap into [with Wall-e] was that irrational love defeats life's programming."

  15. John Zahl says:

    This is a classic post! I used it this past Sunday in my sermon. What a powerful illustration, especially the image of them holding onto the taste buds in attempt to stay safe. Thanks again, M'bird!

  16. Cachorrinho says:

    Haha, yeah! The first time I read Jonah I was really thinking of Nemo!

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