Okay, so I’m a self-admitted Mel-come-lately, and I recently viewed Finding Nemo for the first time. Yes, I know, it’s very old news. It’s for children. It’s beyond yesterday. So sue me.
I loved it.
I might have bashed Disney at some point in the past—if not, I’m certain I’ll do it in the future—but for this moment, my impression of poor Walt’s twisted, overly commercialized dream is pretty sweet, thanks to my viewing of Nemo. It wasn’t perfect; it had its obligatory potty humor moment (“Nemo touched the butt!”) and parts that I thought were a tad too frightening for a G rating (the inevitable Disney parent death, the huge, blood-thirsty shark pursuit, the dark-sea-dwelling toothy fish pursuit, even the giant scuba diver mask rising out of nowhere to kidnap poor Nemo…) But it was, to put it plainly, a great flick. Disney (and graphics giant Pixar) got it right. The frightened dad was believable as an understandably overprotective parent. Nemo felt real as a kid who is ready for challenge and wants to be brave so his dad realizes how big he is. The lesser characters—the other kids fighting over one youngster’s shell, Gill the fish tank dweller who’s also gimpy and also hails from the ocean, Nigel the soft-hearted pelican, even those ludicrous seagulls chanting “mine, mine, mine.” It worked. It really worked.
And afterward, I kept thinking of Dory, the scatterbrained but very likable fish voiced by Ellen Degeneres. She was my favorite, so sweet, so silly and forgetful, so hapless. I felt like I knew her. I loved that she couldn’t give reasons for her instinctual hunches—I mean, how many of us can, really? I loved that moment as they sat on the verge of death inside a whale, ready to tumble back in the giant’s throat to a seemingly certain demise; she was telling Marlin to just let go, the whale said it’ll be okay, etc. etc., and when he asked her why he should, she said, “I don’t know!” And that moment resounded in me, for all the times I’ve felt something, felt the need to do or say something that I couldn’t explain—actions or statements that I occasionally felt sure were being prompted by God. And nearly every time, I wasn’t absolutely certain about the instinct or the prompt. Often, I didn’t know why I should do it (other than obedience, in the God-prompt situations); I certainly didn’t know what results it would bring. I am Dory.
But my favorite part? The line I couldn’t get out of my head? “Just keep swimming.” The precious scuba mask, Marlin’s only link to Nemo’s kidnapper and his location, has slipped into the deepest, darkest crevasse that Marlin’s ever seen. The mask drops farther, farther, and farther out of sight. He tries to retrieve it, only to suffer a fishy anxiety attack as soon as he’s immersed in the blackness. And there comes Dory, and she’s chanting that line with such cheery determination. In fact, the whole exchange cracks me up (I found it online):
Dory: Hey there, Mr. Grumpy Gills. When life gets you down, do you wanna know what you've gotta do?
Marlin: No I don't wanna know.
Dory: [singing] Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.
The best part is that while she repeats the mantra, they swim deeper and deeper into the great unknown and are ultimately successful in finding and decoding the lost mask.
Oddly enough, there’s a whole web page dedicated to quotes from the movie (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0266543/quotes) although I would guess there are countless web pages dedicated to quotes from every remotely decent film ever made, since we humans seem by and large to prefer unreality to our own tedious existences. But our sometimes tedious existences are the very point of Dory’s line, aren’t they? “Just keep swimming.” Even if you’re tired, or lost, or unmotivated, or don’t care for your swimming partners and teachers and the underwater growth around you… because that’s reality sometimes, if we’re being frank here. And although I’m always Mel, I’m also pretty darned good at being frank. Life can be dull. It can wear you down and make you weary, teary, ungrateful, and filled with ennui.
But it’s up to us, whether we just keep swimming, or float around expending energy in complaints and concerns. I even had my kid saying those words for a few days after we viewed the movie: “Just keep swimming.” It seemed appropriate, as I pretended I was a fireman for the 40th time that day, or carried more clothes to the washer, or cleaned up from yet another meal, or paid bills and watched one more paycheck slip away. Just keep swimming.
Just keep swimming. Because you can, because you must, because it’s better than being buffeted by the tides. And because the very fins we flutter, gimpy though they sometimes are, can deliver our greatest blessings if we hold them dear and use them to our best ability and with the intent of glorifying our maker. Even the tides can be blessings, if only we can learn to flow with them and not against them.
Maybe it’s a stretch for a Disney movie; maybe I’m reading too much into it. But I’m still going to say it to myself whenever I need a reminder to persevere: Just keep swimming.