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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Movies & Madness: Finding Nemo

Since I was at home almost a week with my flu-ridden child about two weeks ago, I watched a lot of animated movies in a short period of time. Finding Nemo happens to be one of my daughter's favorites. As an occupational hazard, I began to point out all the therapeutic issues the characters displayed, especially those in the fish tank. (They might as well be representative of an in-patient psychiatric population!)

Gurgle - OCD - disgusted by human mouth, ocean is contaminated
Deb - delusional about her "sister" Flo who is really just her reflection in the glass
Bubbles -neurotic about the bubbles
Gill - the hard-as-nails fish who's been there, done that, got the scar to prove it; into conspiracy theories
Crush - thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie
Bruce - shark with abandonment issues from his dad
Chum - the shark who relapsed on fish by eating his "bring a buddy" before support group
Dory - major short-term memory loss
Nemo - guilt over last words spoken to his father

But none come close to Nemo's father, Marlin. Let's take a look at him. He got married and hopped on the good fin to do the bad thing, resulting in tons of little babies in need of loving care. He then suffers surely the worst kind of pain when he loses his new wife to a shark attack, as well as all his babies--save one: Nemo.

Marlin has severe PTSD from the attack, as is evident in how he babies Nemo and doesn't want to let him grow up. He believes the little fin is proof positive of Nemo's need to be overly smothered. After all, Nemo can't swim as well with his little fin, which serves as a visual reminder to Marlin of all he lost when the shark ate his wife and other babies. Marlin has a fear of the open ocean, now, and does his best to instill that in Nemo. It's "not safe" to swim there.

Then Nemo comes into his own obstinacy when his dad makes him feel foolish in front of his new school friends, harping on how they could have been killed at the drop-off and that Nemo can't swim because of the little fin. Most of you probably know what happens: Nemo gets defiant and goes to the boat, touches it with his fin--a part that resonates in the hearts of all parents with children--and gets caught by the Australian deep-sea diver/dentist before he can return.

Then Marlin is on a mission to find Nemo and bring him back safely. He encounters all manner of traumatic problems, any one of which would send a sane fish over the edge. First Dory - who can't remember anything. Then the sharks and their "Fish are Friends, Not Food" support group--I can only imagine the true terror Marlin would feel after losing his wife and children to a shark and then to have Bruce chase him down, intent on taking "just a little bite." Then they have the jellyfish ordeal, and the whole getting-eaten-by-a-whale ordeal, having to jump in the mouth of a pelican to prevent getting eaten by seagulls, and all this to see little Nemo belly-side up in a plastic bag, pretending to be dead.

Now Marlin is super depressed. Who wouldn't be? But to be reunited with his son, who is alive, brings out the fierce protective part of Marlin once again. He doesn't want Nemo to do anything to endanger himself or put himself out further than Marlin thinks is appropriate.

Then the last upheaval happens....the part where Nemo is small enough to swim through the fish net, where Dory and thousands of other fish are trapped, to motivate the entire group to "swim down!" as a way to fight against being taken in the net--something Nemo has learned from his time with the Fraternal Bond of Tankhood members. Marlin has to make the decision to let Nemo go once again, and this is the deciding moment for him as a father. (I would think writers would get a lot out of watching this movie as it relates to internal motivation and external tensions. Incredible, really.)

It's a kid's movie, after all, so all ends well. But Marlin has come to a more healthy decision about how to parent Nemo, which leaves Nemo happier and Marlin happy, as well. He's beat his mental illness. Realistic? No...not after all Marlin went through. But then again, who are we to try to fight against the willful tenacity of a father with everything to lose? Perhaps its a lesson of the power of the mind over mental illness.

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Linda Glaz said...

Ahem, I'm sure your daughter has new insight into the world of psychology and how it affects movies. I had to laugh at your analysis.

Mary Aalgaard said...

Great analogy. I'll never view the movie the same way again. Sweet!

Raquel Byrnes said...

This was great. I like to watch movies to see if I can clearly define aspects of the story are spot on with Marlin. =)

Like I said, the go-to guru.

Juliette Wade said...

Great analysis! This was something I noticed about the movie when I first saw it - something that I believe lifted it from the ordinary level of children's movies into something extraordinary. Sure, it's a bunch of colorful animated fish, but they're acting out real psychology that we can recognize and empathize with.

Sierra Gardner said...

This just goes to show that we find our neuroses funny =)

Keli Gwyn said...

What a novel way to view Finding Nemo. No wonder we adults love shows like these as much as kids do. There's obviously far more to them than the young can appreciate. =)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

juliette - i completely agree. this is as real and raw as it can get....with animated fish. brilliant, really.

go-to guru, raquel---again, what an honor. thanks. :)

Jewel Sample said...

Marlin has PTSD? Oh dear, I will never watch Nemo again with my past perspective...LOL
Indeed children's stories can teach adults new ways of looking at life. Great way to glean writing ideas.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this analysis. For my grade 12 psychology culminating, we were required to watch a movie and write a report picking out as many psychology terms as we could that were discussed in class throughout the semester. I had made the decision to watch Finding Nemo (in my opinion, still the best Pixar movie). Then I stumbled upon this page and it helped me understand the psychological disorders I had missed on my own. Thanks again!

christi said...

I love it! I am full time mother of a four year old, work full-time at a CAC, and just started my first sememster in grad school for counseling. I just watched Nemo last night and I have to do a movie reflection and defend why I feel the character suffers from a mental disorder, I sat there with Nemo and became witness to your most of your thoughts. I told myself I will analyize Marlin. I went on line to see if someone shared my same perspective. And here you are! Awesome.

Anonymous said...

A shark didn't attack Marlin's wife it was a barracuda i believe but great article nonetheless.

Unknown said...

great analysis! However Marlin and his wife weren't attacked by a shark, it was a barracuda...

Richard C. Lambert said...

i completely agree. this is as real and raw as it can get....with animated fish. brilliant, really. mental health counseling

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.