Every other Wednesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
***This article may contain spoilers for the film Finding Dory.***
My family escaped a scorching afternoon to go see Finding Dory, the much-anticipated (at least by me) sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo. There are some good moments in this new installment, particularly the obscenely adorable Baby Dory and the comedic camouflage of Hank the octopus—though, as Dory points out, with only seven tentacles, we ought to call him a septopus. There are some over-done moments, which I find in most contemporary children’s films, namely the extensive truck-weaving-through-traffic scene used to draw out the inevitable family reunion—too slapstick and too long. What can I say? I like the old days of Disney cartoons lasting no more than 75-90 minutes. My four-year-old agrees. Still, we all enjoyed the movie, not to mention the buttered popcorn.
While Dory just kept swimming, her parents stayed put.Dory is as kooky and lovable as ever, though in this version her character and her memory are drawn out to illustrate more of her backstory. She’s not lost-and-found in the same concrete, physical way as Nemo; it’s more existential, though I think there’s room for the argument that both movies are really about homecomings and self-discovery. As the film progresses, Dory recalls more and more of her history, with memory triggers and old friends to build her self-confidence. The most poignant scene for me, and the one that got me weeping, is Dory’s reunion with her parents; they never moved. They just kept building trails of shells, ever-hopeful that Dory would remember her lesson to follow the shells home. It works.
Her parents’ faith in her is buoying, particularly because Dory blames herself for losing them in the first place. In that child-like way of taking responsibility for grownups and grownup problems, she bore the burden (well, when she could remember it) of being the one who lost them—not the other way around.
The scene of the little cave with trails of shells stretching out from it, beckoning their little “kelpcake” home, reminded me of the last stanza from Khalil Gibran’s poem “On Children.” After using the first two stanzas to caution parents that we don’t own our children and can’t control them, he provides these words of comfort:
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
I’ve always loved the image of parenting here. It’s a reminder of generational difference, when each one gets its chance in turn. It’s a reminder, especially in a culture that values motion (and both of these films love the journey motif), that there is value in stillness, too.
The “you” within the poem addresses parents, while I’ve always interpreted God as the archer. It’s not the parents who are aiming. It’s the parents who are the tool, the bow, whose job is to be still, to be strong, to be stable. Certainly, that’s not always an easy job. It defies the message of Finding Nemo, where Marlin swam across the entire ocean to get his son back. But Finding Dory is a different movie, with a different character and message at its center; we also still see Marlin struggling with the same desire that pushed Nemo away in the first place, that inability to let the arrow fly “swift and far,” or at least in developmentally-appropriate ways.
Dory’s parents, though, don’t canvas the ocean in search of her. They stay put, for years. They extend their trails of shells. They wait and hope. It’s a maddening message for parents desperate to recover their children. I don’t know how they did it. And maybe that’s why this poem, and Psalm 46:10, come to mind so frequently for me. In the world of Pixar fish, I’m Marlin, just as in the Biblical scheme, I’m a Martha. I worry, and I plan. And it still rubs me the wrong way when Dory advises her fish friends just to improvise! What’s the point of a plan, anyway? I cannot condone that message! There are lists to make!
Dory’s parents worry, too; we see that. And we see their concern when they fear she’s been swimming alone for all these years. But their faith is stronger than their fear. Maybe they wavered, but they never lost hope. They lengthened the trail of shells, sending it out in new directions, but always leading back to the same stable home. While Dory just kept swimming, her parents stayed put. And Finding Dory is a film that celebrates Dory as the arrow who flies (and finds herself) just as much as it celebrates her parents as the stable bow. The challenge for me is, as Gibran points out, is to “[l]et your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.” It’s not always finding that’s the hardest. Sometimes, it’s the letting go.
Another take on Finding Dory from Christ and Pop Culture can be found here.