The widely popular children’s movie Finding Nemo, directed by Andrew Stanton, follows the heroic journey of a father through a great deal of obstacles as well as triumphs while on his journey to reunite with his son. His quest follows the same pattern as every other heroic journey throughout time; the universal monomyth. The key components that allow the universal monomyth to be seen throughout Finding Nemo are the basic steps of the hero myth, the different archetypes that characters fit perfectly to, and the universal themes that are visible throughout the movie.
The heroic journey within Finding Nemofollows the story of Marlin, a small fearful clown fish who is afraid of everything from the wide open sea down to basically his own shadow. Even though it may seem that Marlin is an unlikely hero, he fits Joseph Campbell’s definition of a hero to a tee. Campbell said, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a religion of supernatural wonder. Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won, the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men” (Campbell). This is exactly what Marlin did, he ventured out from the comfortable world he knew in order to get his boon, his son Nemo.
Like all other heroes, Marlin’s heroic journey started with his “call to adventure”. This call to adventure, or event that initiated Marlin’s journey, was the capturing of his son by the scuba diver. At first, Marlin does not know how to react and is very reluctant to going on this frightening quest. Marlin’s fearful and apprehensive personality is the cause of his initial “refusal to the call”. In order to get past this fear, Marlin needed the assistance of a mentor or supernatural aid who could give him the boost of confidence he needed to face the adventure. Dory, a flighty and forgetful fish whom Marlin befriends at the start of his journey, becomes this god-like figure for him and provides him with advice and knowledge. One of Dory’s biggest roles in helping Marlin find his son was the fact that she could read the address on the diver’s mask that was dropped when Nemo was captured. “42 P. Sherman Wallaby Way, Sydney.” (Finding Nemo). Ironically, Dory is an incredibly forgetful fish with short term memory loss; however, she still plays a very essential role as a mentor to Marlin on his quest.
The next step for Marlin on his journey to find his son is the “crossing of the first threshold”. This is where a change takes place within Marlin and he realizes that getting his son back to safety is more important than his own fears and concerns about entering the open sea. Marlin’s transformation or rebirth occurs in the “belly of the whale” step of his journey. Now, in most cases being in the belly of the whale in a heroic journey is used in a metaphoric sense meaning that the hero is to be swallowed then transformed and ready to take on their adventure. The creators of Finding Nemo took this “belly of the whale” stage to another level by putting the characters Marlin and Dory literally inside the belly of a whale. While inside the whale, Marlin had to make the important decision to trust Dory and listen to her advice. When Marlin decided to let go of his grip on the whale’s tongue and allow fate to run its course, Marlin’s transformation was complete. The change that took place within Marlin is evident because of the trust he put in Dory. This is something he never would have been able to do before his transformation inside the belly of the whale.
“The road of travels” is the next part of Marlin’s journey while he travels in search of his son. Within this part of Marlin’s quest there are three major obstacles that he must overcome in order to continue on. The three major obstacles in Marlin’s way are avoiding contact with the hungry sharks, Dory’s stupidity and the amount of difficulty she brings to his trek, and the biggest obstacle of all, the jellyfish fields that almost cause the death of Marlin as well as Dory. Each of these things make Marlin’s journey increasingly difficult, but each time he is able to overcome them and continue on. Campbell said in an interview with Bill Moyers, “…the trials are designed to see to it that the intending hero should be really a hero. Is he really a match for this task? Can he overcome the dangers? Does he have the courage, the knowledge, the capacity, to enable him to serve?” (Campbell 126). Each of the obstacles Marlin faces and eventually overcomes proves that he is really fit to be a hero and to save his son. After overcoming the near death experiences in the jellyfish fields, Marlin is not sure how much more he can handle and is again starting to have some doubts. This is the point in the story where Marlin meets his “father-like figure” Crush who helps him to better understand himself and his relationship with his son. As it turns out, Crush also has a son about Nemo’s age; however, Crush and his son Squirt’s relationship is very different from Marlin and Nemo’s. Crush is a very laid back and carefree father to Squirt, and quite frankly this seems to allow them to have a better relationship than the one that Nemo and Marlin have. If Marlin had not been so incredibly overprotective of his son, Nemo may have never gone out to the open sea and been captured by the scuba diver. Joseph Campbell described Nemo’s reasoning for swimming out into the open sea through one simple yet powerful phrase. “There is that testing time in your life when you have got to test yourself out to your own flight” (Campbell 155). This is exactly what Nemo was doing. He was testing his limits and testing what he was capable of doing on his own without the hindering guidance of his father. After realizing how much he had sheltered his son for all of his life, Marlin made the statement, “Maybe he wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been so tough on him” (Marlin-Finding Nemo). Through many of the seemingly simple things he says and does, Crush provides a good example to Marlin as to how to trust their children more easily. One of Crush’s lessons he unknowingly taught to Marlin came through the words, “Let us see what Squirt does flying solo” (Crush- Finding Nemo). By seeing how Crush allowed his son to have some freedom, Marlin realized his son deserves the same. This is Marlin’s apotheosis. He now has the ability to see things he never saw before in regards to his relationship with his son. By finally coming to the conclusion that Nemo does deserve to be given more freedom, Marlin is now ready to receive his “ultimate boon”, his son.
Even though the way in which Nemo was freed from the fish tank in the dentist’s office was not due directly to the journey his father had made, Marlin still played a big role in getting his son back into the ocean. One character that unknowingly came to Marlin’s aid while Nemo was in the fish tank was Gill, another fish who lived in the fish tank and who, like Nemo, grew up in the ocean. Once their plan to get Nemo back into the sea and reunited with his father was complete, Marlin and Nemo were then ready for the “crossing of the return threshold”. This could not be done however, without another challenge that Marlin had to overcome. While on their journey back, Dory gets caught in a fisherman’s net along with many other fish. Marlin again plays the heroic role and decides to do everything within his power to now save Dory who was one of the key reasons he was able to save his son. Marlin gives the advice that Dory once gave to him, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” (Dory/Marlin- Finding Nemo). Through Marlin’s heroic actions once again he is able to overcome yet another challenge on his heroic journey.
Now that Marlin has achieved his boon and is entering back into his familiar world, he now has the “freedom to live”. With all of the knowledge Marlin has acquired while on his journey he now has to put everything together and use the things he has learned to use in his relationship with his son. One quote that Marlin said sums up the lesson that he learned throughout his journey is spoken when watching his son leave for school. When Marlin encouragingly says, “Bye son! Go have an adventure! Have fun!” it is evident that he has completed his journey. Overall, Marlin’s journey has proved to have made a huge transformation in his life and in his relationship with his son. This also proves another one of Joseph Campbell’s ideas to be true within Finding Nemo, “When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness” (Campbell 126).
Throughout Marlin’s heroic journey he met several different characters that represented some universal archetypal figures, all of which played a big part in the outcome of the quest. Some of the most important archetypes presented are the trickster, the mentor, the wise old man, and the shape shifter. Since Dory was such an influential character within the story, it is not surprising that she represents more than one archetype. Throughout Marlin’s adventure, Dory represents both the trickster and the mentor. Dory plays the role of the trickster by adding silliness and unconventional behavior to the story line. Without the comic relief Dory adds to some otherwise serious and saddening scenes, the story may not have been as widely appreciated. The other role Dory plays is the mentor. She plays this role by giving Marlin the advice and assistance he needs to continue on his journey throughout the story. The wise old man archetype is played throughout the story by Crush, a sea turtle who has a very good relationship with his son. Crush provides Marlin with an example of how having a healthy and trusting relationship with his son is worth all of the effort. The fourth major archetype found within the characters of Finding Nemo is the shape shifter. Gill serves as the shape shifting character within the story because of how he seems to go from bad to good several times within the time Nemo spent in the fish tank in the dentist’s office. When Nemo first arrives Gill seems to want nothing to do with Nemo; however, as the story continued he gained a new liking for Nemo and also played a key role in his returning to the ocean. Without these essential archetypal characters, Marlin may never have been able to complete his journey.
Throughout Finding Nemo, along with the heroic journey and archetypes there are also several universal themes that are found so frequently throughout other movies and pieces of literature. The first and most obvious theme is the bond between father and son. Marlin made an astounding transformation from a very easily frightened clown fish to a fish that was able to go out and do whatever was necessary to get his son back to safety. The fact that Marlin cared so much as to make this great change within himself shows how much love he truly has for his son and also that Marlin now realizes what kind of relationship he wants to have with Nemo. When the movie had just begun, Marlin did not trust his son and always made decisions for him. Now that he has a more open mind regarding the big decisions in his Nemo’s life they will now have a stronger and everlasting relationship. Another universal theme present throughout Finding Nemo as well as many other works is the idea of parents having a difficult time with their children growing up and allowing them to have some freedoms. The main reason why Nemo felt he had to prove himself by swimming out into the open waters is mainly because of his father’s lack of trust in him and the fact that he had been so incredibly sheltered his entire life. When Nemo is captured and Marlin is forced to go on this heroic journey, Marlin then is able to see through the example that Crush and Squirt provide that if children are given a small amount of freedom they will be less likely to “test the waters” so to speak as to see what they can and cannot do. Marlin, like so many other parents, originally had a very difficult time accepting that his son was growing older and no longer could live such a sheltered life. As the story ran its course, Marlin discovered that by giving his son some freedom overall their relationship would be strengthened. These two themes present in Finding Nemo are universal and are often times the themes of other movies and pieces of literature.
Campbell, Joseph. Moyers, Bill. “An Interview with Joseph Campbell”. The Power of Myth.
New York: Doubleday, 1988. Print.
Finding Nemo. Director: Andrew Stanton. Performers: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres,
Alexander Gould. Pixar, Walt Disney Pictures, 2003.