Episode 9 - Finding Nemo, Dory, and More In The Same Patch of Ocean

            So, Pixar—after over a decade—finally released a sequel to the Incredibles, their film about the typical American family that isn’t so typical because they also have superpowers. And why did I even say that? Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you probably know what I’m talking about. Almost guaranteed that you are at least vaguely familiar with it. I mean, for one, it’s a Pixar movie. Two, it’s a beloved Pixar move. And three, the hype surrounding the long awaited sequel would have conveyed a lot of the basics to the uninitiated.


            And generally speaking, this sequel has been well received. Aside from a few common and rather troubling complaints.

            But yeah, I don’t need to go into it anymore because this episode is not about the Incredibles, either the first or the second. (Music stops) Hey, podcasters don’t have an algorithm to cater to or help them, so don’t hate the player hate the fact that the game just doesn’t exist. (music fades in)  But this release did get me thinking about some of the other Pixar movies I hold dear (Music fades out).

            Hi. It’s M. Welcome to Episode 9.

            (Music starts)

            So instead of the Incredibles, I want to talk about Finding Dory, the tale of the intrepid fish who overcame the odds in a journey across the ocean. A little fish with a perceived defect that other fish use to discredit our little hero seeks to prove themselves and assert not just their independence but also their status as a capable individual. However, in doing so, they get swept up in something much, much bigger than they are. The loved one who doubted them and their abilities the most now must rescue them with the help of a sidekick who isn’t perfect themselves but is more sympathetic to the hero’s plight than the rescuer is. All parties then travel across the ocean, and in doing so, the protagonist becomes aware of their own strength and grows into themselves while the Debbie-downer-slash-doubter or Marlin starts to see the error of their ways.

            (Music abruptly stops)

            Wait (Paper shuffling), which movie did I just describe?

            (Music fades in)

            That might have been a bit on the nose. And look, that isn’t to call Finding Dory a clone of Finding Nemo or to completely condemn it as a wasted endeavor on those grounds or anything like that. It’s just to say that there are similarities in the plots. In fact, I think that is part of the charm. More than that, I suspect that might have been one of the reasons why I enjoyed Finding Dory as much as I did.


            I once learned something about narrative structure that needlessly bothered me greatly when I first discovered it. Namely, that there are only so many types of conflicts possible in fiction. The exact number of conflicts in this set varies. I’ve seen it at anything from three to ten, but just to give you a couple examples of what I’m talking about, I mean conflict types like “man versus man,” “man versus society,” and “man versus self,” and in some circles “man versus technology” or “man versus nature.”

            You can, of course, combine some of these conflicts to create multi-layer ones. And obviously executions are going to vary wildly, particularly when you factor in all the different variables and combinations possible in the vast, universe of fictional worlds. All the same, there’s still something finite about storytelling when you look at it in those terms, and that bothered me, not majorly but like when you take an intro level philosophy class, and the professor momentarily convinces you that you don’t actually exist. You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s a brief exposure to an unsettling idea that then inoculates you to the larger existential dread that comes later when you get to those units about absurdism, nihilism and ethics that may run counter to your own.

            And maybe, this brutal realization about the limited number of conflict types there are (brutal only because I had the tendency to overreact to any perceived attack on the entity I love so much) kept me from being upset about the similarities between Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. Because sure, maybe the plot points between the two movies lined up a little too closely to justify the wait and/or the price of admission. I can see why you think that. I’m only saying that I’m not inclined to think that way, myself.

            In my mind, I could easily call it a different story, or different enough, having divested significance in plot and re-invested in experience.


            Have you ever heard the idea that a book is essentially a different story to every person who reads it? I can’t remember when I first encountered that thought or theory or how I did, so while I should trace it back, I have no idea how or where to start. The idea, though, as I remember it and by extension understand it, was that because each reader brings in their own world view, understanding, and emotions into the act of reading, each reader’s takeaway from the printed word is going to be unique. Because, you know, there’s more to the story than what the author put together. The reader has to have their say.

            I remember this thought being offered for the written word alone. Maybe that’s inaccurate and this idea has always been applicable to all forms of fiction. If so, I stand behind it. If not, I’d like to push it out there.

            As a way of just furthering dressing up the stage for what is to come, that is. Because I was a very different person when Finding Dory came out. For one, I was an adult, potentially need to put that word in quotes. And, I was no longer the child of two living parents.

            (New music)

            Finding Nemo came out when I was a kid, so the memory of its release comes in pieces. I don’t remember its announcement being met with that much fanfare. But it must have been there. After all, it was a Pixar movie.  Pixar seldom, SELDOM disappoints, and its directors landed a pretty great cast. So from a more adult perspective, it was looking pretty good.

            On the other hand, I was young enough that my mom was in control, and she would take me to every new movie, thinking that I’d likely be at a social deficit if I even missed just one. Well, technically, I was already at a social deficit, not sure why though, so I guess she just didn’t want to make the problem worse. That was my mom. My mom despite never liking movies, despite usually sleeping through those movies, always took me to them. It was like her passion project. Not my dad’s. He never went.


            In regards to his non-participation, it’s hard for me to discern his reasoning for such. I can’t even begin to piece it together. It’s been too long, I was too young, and he was too quiet. I know he didn’t like kids’ movies, but it wasn’t like he never choked down his own distaste when something made me happy. He did it plenty of other times, so was I just not passionate enough about movies to warrant the sacrifice? Did Mom just call dibs when I was a baby? Was that supposed to be our thing or Mom’s designated nap time?

            Or was it his health? That stopped him from doing a lot. It’s why my parents could never hide his illness from me as well as they would have liked. Or partially why.

            There was one exception, though. Just one or just one that I can remember.

            The only movie we ever watched as a family was Finding Nemo. And I’m just unsure as to why this was the exception as I am to why this was the rule in the first place. Maybe because of the prominent role fatherhood plays in the story? And if I remember correctly it came out around Father’s Day, so was it the way we decided to celebrate?

            I really don’t remember. But I do remember not believing them when my parents told me Dad was coming to the movies with me and mom. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to believe them. I love my dad, and this was especially true back then, so it was something of a dream made real. Any time with him was akin to a dream coming true, but that wasn’t the point. I understood the way my world worked, which was not that way. But one way in which it did work was that my parents loved to tease me about things like that. Offering me something I wanted only to tease me for that want. I never found those jokes particularly funny. Ever.

            But this wasn’t a joke. Dad really went with us to the movie. And I got to sit in-between my parents. It probably seems like such a small thing to anyone else, but it meant the world to me to have him there. It was a very special occasion, in my mind. Because you know what? It was something I had wanted for so long, but I hadn’t realized it until that day. Until I actually could let myself want it, once I already had it. Then I could just be unabashedly happy and joyful. In a state of heavenly bliss I had previously thought impossible.

            Actually, no. Not really. It wasn’t that poetic.

            It’s just a memory I cherish, and as a result of that, there will always be some nostalgic idealization happening.

(New Music starts)

At that point, Dad wasn’t in his final decline, yet. No, we had a couple more years before that would happen. Not long but not nothing. Except, Dad had been hospitalized multiple times that I could remember, and a few that I had heard about but didn’t live through. So the grim reaper wasn’t in our house, but he knew where we lived, and he and my dad spoke far too often.

            When we saw Finding Nemo, I didn’t care about Nemo so much. Probably should have, considering he was the hero and designed in such a way as to resonate with me and other children. But to be blunt, his story bored me. It was just something I had way too much experience with. Part of being the kid of a sick parent. A lot of my daily life was spent overcoming challenges that were seemingly beyond the scope of a child, so I knew it could happen. I did it all it all the time, and it had become ordinary. In fact, I didn’t want to think about it anymore

            Instead of latching onto Nemo, I latched onto Marlin. To me, Finding Nemo was the story of a father seeking out his beloved child, going to impossible lengths for the rescue. Sure, he’s overbearing, over protective, and over-a-few-other-things. But my dad could be the same way, and I was—like—eight. I wasn’t thinking critically about my parents’ parenting choices. There’s a downside to parenting that way, which even Marlin realizes but that was a bit above me.

To take it farther, forget character development or just character in general. It was about the adventure, about the prize, and about a father’s love.


            I’ve mentioned before that part of the way I coped with grief was to hold onto stories as stand-ins for different aspects of my relationship with my father once he died, specifically for his love when he was no longer around to give it. Finding Nemo, or Marlin’s attempts to find Nemo, slid right into that hole in my life, saying that no matter how far I went, he would always be ready to come after me or at least he’d want to come after me. He just didn’t always have the choice. 

            Sure, that may be silly, but grieving is hard. Keeping a person or memory in your life is hard. But keeping a movie in your life is substantially easier.

            That isn’t to say that I watched it frequently or religiously, screening it every week or so on an appointed day and time then applying its lessons to my life at every opportunity that is both available and convenient. No, it was just nice to have a DVD there.

            You see, I’m not the kind of person to call my parents daily, but I am the kind of person who needs to know they’re there for me. Regarding my father, I don’t even have that.

            (Music changes)

            So fast forward to Finding Dory, and—I know—in past episodes I’ve misused that term, but we’re talking a decade between the two movies. And really, the only counter-argument I can come up with to me saying that is that the merchandizing of this particular intellectual property figuratively bridges the temporal gap between the movie, or how it never really left our popular consciousness. Consider how when most people see a clown fish, they immediately think of Nemo. And when it’s a parent sometimes they say it aloud, even when their kid isn’t around. Looking at you lady in my podiatrist’s office. No shade. Just thought it was cute.

            But still, despite the success or because of the unexpected nature of that success of Finding Nemo, Pixar wasn’t ready to release a sequel. Not right away. And it doesn’t seem like something they gave any thought to.

So after a decade, Finding Dory finally came out, right in the middle of the reboot era. It feels like a distinct era in media, anyway, whether or not it is technically notwithstanding. I’m sure there were reboots or revivals in the past but there weren’t that many properties eligible for that treatment up into recently.

            Point being, as nostalgia became not just a commodity but an incredibly lucrative commodity, Finding Dory came out. The cynic could easily link these events if they so wanted, and they could draft up a very convincing argument. But I was one of the many who were just too excited to be cynical. Sure, collectively we had never expressed direct interest in a sequel, at least I and the people I surrounded myself with had not. But once we were presented with the idea, we latched onto it pretty quick. Once the offer was made, it instantly became something we wanted. And also, Dory is a pretty lovable character. She might even be more popular than Nemo (Pause). Actually I’m going to walk that back a bit. Finding Nemo had a cast full of all around great characters, including Nemo. And watching Nemo grow more into himself or having more adventures would have still made for a compelling sequel and a good story.

            But with that being said, there’s something completely and utterly charming about Dory. More so than any of the other fish in the movie. She’s got short term memory problems and yet never forgets to be a happy-go-lucky fish fully embracing that Carp-e diem lifestyle. Ha.

            (New music starts)

            Giving Dory the spotlight like that—or having a spotlight at all—might have just been a shameless cash grab, yes but it was one people could genuinely enjoy. And I mean, the good part of capitalism is when a company that wants money develops a particularly enjoyed and appreciated good that the public loves, raising the amount of joy and happiness in the world without crushing anyone.

            Back to the story. Finding Dory as a concept is announced while I’m still in college, and at the time, I was not dismayed by the previously stated and justified cynicism latent in our state of being or current state of affairs. In fact, I swung the other way. I was actually pretty excited about it, but this excitement was quelled by the fact that the announcement reached me on April 1st. You know, April Fool’s Day. And that would have worked well as an April Fool’s Day prank: harmless but still able to elicit a reaction from your target, which often requires some sort of emotional investment and thus could potentially jeopardize the relationship or that person’s wellbeing. Sure, it’s not great to get your hopes up, but it’s not life-altering.

            On that point, I actually forgot about that announcement for a while. College happened would be the best way of putting it. College happened and continued to happen.

            Finding Dory came out while I was in graduate school in Chicago. Different place, different stage of life, and—in many ways—a very different person. I was stronger, less encumbered by problematic relationships. A sense of personal agency had replaced my passive nature. But most of all, Dad was long gone as were most of my destructive feelings on the matter. Yeah, counseling is pretty great.


            Graduate school was a weird in-between state for me. And before you crack any jokes dependent on sweeping generalizations on the subject, I just want to remind you that it isn’t like that for everyone. Some people go into carefully selected programs with a set idea of what they want to do and use this as a means to that end. But I wasn’t one of them. I didn’t know what I wanted from my life. I wanted to live in Chicago and had managed that, but I hadn’t thought any farther ahead. What I mean is, I didn’t go to graduate school as a career move. That would require some sort of destination in mind, which I didn’t have.

My dream career just needed to have a creative element to it; that’s all I knew. And guess what?  My graduate program didn’t intrinsically have that. I just forced it in later. And look, I loved the program and the subjects, but I had to do a degree of customization that wasn’t necessarily condoned by administrators. I didn’t always do what my advisors or administrators wanted me to do. In fact, we’re talking maybe less than a 60% rate of me doing what I was told. And that’s being generous to me because my family does know this podcast exists whether or not they listen to it notwithstanding. I, I definitely wasn’t a rebel. If you are listening. Nope. I wasn’t that bad.

            My mom was actually the one who heard about Finding Dory first. She works with kids, leaving her still very much connected to that scene despite her child being grown and across the country. And, I guess, some things never change because once she heard about it, she made it very clear to me that she still wanted us to see it together. If she thought of Dad at all or remembered that this was the one movie he had made it to, she didn’t say or hint at. Maybe it was too hard to say or maybe it just didn’t cross her mind. I’m not sure.

            It probably was the latter, though. There’s more going on in our lives than the gaping crater next to me. She and I still wanted to do some thing together. And sharing movies had been something that worked in the past, so why not now? (Music stops abruptly) Because it’s not that easy. I’ve never been much of a movie person, and that’s only becoming increasingly true as time goes on. Movies I like or I’m excited to see can be few and far between. Fewer still are those movies my mom can also be enthusiastic about.

            Finding Dory was one of those rare gems that she and I could actually agree on. There just wasn’t anything either of us could object to and so much we could confidently say that we liked. It was the familiar story of a familiar fish trying to make it and prove herself against overwhelming odds and obstacles. But this time, this little fish wasn’t trying to leave an overbearing parent or the life of a supposedly helpless child-slash-less-than-adult. No, in this one, Dory is trying to go home, back to her first home, or to what she remembers of it, and to her parents.


            There’s a time to leave and a time to stay. There’s also a bible passage that hits this idea in a bunch of different ways and almost gets slightly repetitive. But the point is, there’s something alluring about a clear cut understanding of life. Of the assurance that everything is in order and will stay that way. That, there is an order. Life always seems like it’s supposed to be clear cut, and then you talk yourself into graduate school and everything starts to fall apart. Okay, that’s being dramatic, but I’m not sure how else to say it.

            College is the first time many young people get to make their own, substantial decisions, starting from where all of this will happen to what you will study to when you will be doing that studying, though it may not be enough. Regardless, there is still a set structure to these choices and to your life as a whole. There’s limitations, there’s boundaries, and there are safety nets to catch you when you fall. And then college is over, if you got to go like I did. And you are out on your own. Even if you go to college, it’s still a steep step from adolescence to adulthood. And that half step that is collegiate life isn’t as helpful as you might want to think. No matter what, you just take that first step and find that whoops there’s no step, so suddenly, you’re falling. Dropping down to the endless void below you while everyone else around you just assumes you are fine.

            I was fine. Just fine. But I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know what time it was. Time to work, time to study, time to build a life, time to dream. All the while, Mom thought I had all the answers. And she wasn’t the only one. It seemed like everyone else thought I had all the answers.

            There’s this weird paradox with modern life that I’ve noticed. So much of our data is out there on the internet that it can feel like we are naked for the world to see (or for advertisers with shady intentions or priorities to see) and yet, we put forth highly manicured versions of ourselves out there, pretending our lives are perfect and we have all we need, especially all the answers, despite so much evidence to the contrary being out there.

My Facebook friend has so many vacation pictures filling up her feed, but in between those posts are veiled pleas to join what is probably a pyramid scheme. Another friend just took a great fashion job in California, but scroll down far enough, and you’ll see her posts about entering rehab for her eating disorder. And before you get there, you see signs that she may be falling off the wagon again. Then there’s the person who just doesn’t post at all besides sharing funny memes. Her depression is acting up again. I’m the only one who knows.

            I was at the top of my graduating class. I was supposed to be a leader of industry or politics or something like that. The path was paved for me, and yet, I had missed it. I was going through that (quote) typical millennial time waste that was reserved for (quotes again) lesser young people.

            You know, at that point, I should have been in a mental state where these things didn’t bother me anymore. I was stronger than when I moved out but not strong enough to shake everything off. Not strong enough to show my face in my hometown when I was bringing nothing else with me, no career plans, no achievements, no special job titles. And most of all no plan.

            I quietly visited Mom a couple times but usually I bought her a plane ticket to come see me. It was just easier that way. Not that she realized it. She wanted me back in Arizona if only for a little while. And I did not have the heart to tell her how badly I didn’t want to go.


            Mom and I didn’t see the movie opening weekend. I wasn’t even in Arizona that weekend. But I did come out to see her after a while. By the time we made it to the theatre, screenings were becoming less frequent and the large theatres that were unwisely being used for these screenings were usually empty.

            Mom and I were sitting in the back, and halfway between us and the screen were a family of five. That was it. That’s how empty the theater was. We might as well have been alone. Hey, as long as the seat on the other side of me was empty, the theatre might as well have been completely devoid of life.


            When I watched Finding Nemo as a child, I focused on Marlin chasing after his son and on the paternal love that was there, but I didn’t do that when I watching Finding Dory. I mean, obviously, this wasn’t about—in any way—a father chasing after his child. Dory may be child-like, but she wasn’t a child, never mind Marlin’s child. And he goes after her largely out of obligation than anything else. Partially because Nemo pushes him to do it, but at some point beforehand, Marlin still had taken her under his fin in some way. Because he assumed Dory was helpless.

            (Music fades out and new music fades in)

            Dory started her trip as a way to prove herself, to prove she could remember things and follow through on a train of thought. But trip evolved into something more than that. It became a homecoming for her. A chance to reconnect with all those loved ones who—it turns out—were waiting for her the whole time. And even seeing that her memory problems have not improved and that she’s somewhat just existing by many standards, they still welcomed her back with open arms. No hesitation and no comment about her perceived failures.

          They had waited for so long, just for her. For all that she was or was not.

           That’s what the story of Finding Dory was about to me. Not overcoming challenges to maximize potentials but overcoming those things we are most insecure about to make it home, to the place where we want to be. At least, sometimes. You don’t have to be perfect to go home, and that’s part of what makes the act of going home so beautiful. You don’t have to have all the answers. It’s okay not to know, well, anything or to come back broken and unsure. I mean, deep down, you always know the way back. And that’s all you need to know.


          The movies aren’t perfect. And the creative team could have done more with the story of Finding Dory to differentiate it from what came before. Not going to say that this isn’t true. But part of the distinct character of Pixar movies is the emotional resonance that these stories often have. The slight differences to Finding Dory’s plot shifted the emotional weight as did time and the ages of the audience. For that reason, I think it was a worthwhile project.

            I know it meant a lot to me.

            (Music fades out and new music fades in)

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