The Boring Bible’s Disneyworld
ii) Dory and the Theology of Short-term Memory Loss
Well, let’s start this one straight in at the deep-end:
‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.’
To Bible buffs like sad old me, this is one of the most (deservedly) well-know and well-loved verses of the King James Bible.
Looking ‘through a glass darkly’ is perhaps a bit like being underwater, especially when you don’t wear goggles and you open your eyes. Things are harder to discern, for your vision to make sense of; even though your brain and your experience tell you firmly that those things you are seeing as being apparently fluid and amorphous are actually, truly, and factually solid and static; and that it is your own perceptions that are in error.
Water is a medium, just as is air and atmosphere. Both are transparent. Both suffer movements and tumult. Both allow light to shine and illumine objects via their medium. Maybe air and atmosphere themselves, like water, also allow only apparent perception to us and to our senses; and maybe we are taking for granted that what is provided to us through vision in air and atmosphere is our firmest reality?
But to hit the ground again and begin proper: we can see better in air and atmosphere than we can underwater. We have a better set of clues to go on, and these are telling us where we are and what surroundings to avoid or to embrace. Let’s say this is the norm for normal human beings like most people.
Conversely, we are not in our native element when we are underwater, and so the visual signals there are those we are by nature less able to cope with.
Let’s make a shift of gear and suggest that a person of average mental faculties is the person with the 20/20 mental vision: is the person who sees with her eyes in the medium of air and atmosphere. And that the person who, like Dory in the movie of ‘Finding Nemo’, has to bear with an affliction like short-term memory loss, is the person underwater, seeing the world, not as a picture or full set of pictures perhaps, but seeing what she can make out of the world in so far as her disability allows her. Building from it her world as a unified rational construct
Dory, as ‘seeing through a glass darkly’
In general Dory gets (or retains) less sensory information for herself to work with, and so build up her world picture. But she does build admirably; and as Marlin’s mentor, she has attained a firmer grasp of reality than Marlin has.
Scholars may perhaps be among the persons who bother to read through this piece, some of whom will be familiar with ‘The Allegory of the Cave’ in Plato’s ‘Republic’. In that allegory, able-bodied or otherwise, we are all of us are unable to see what (a higher) reality might truly look like. It can only be inferred, intuited, hinted at.
So here we have Disney, Plato, and St Paul; all being in agreement that, in some sense, all of us have to, and do of necessity, contend with a certain amount of disability in order to come to trust upon a better understanding of what the world might truly be and mean.
And this learning to Trust in things unseen, or unforeseeable, is the journey that Marlin, Nemo’s father, has to travel in the company of his unlikeliest guide.
It is the Trust that is essential. The Cave dwellers, the Christian, and the Memory-impaired Dory, put their deepest trust in things they can only dimly perceive; and they trust that these dim perceptions are indications of a better, higher way of life than the lives we all commonly know and live right now.
When I got comfortable in my seat in the cinema and began to watch ‘Finding Nemo’, a Disney film which of them all has such an unpropitious beginning, I soon became an even greater sceptic about where the film was going; about what sort of movie storyline this was; and about what could possibly be made of such unpromising material as a co-protagonist who cannot remember who on earth she is for five minutes consecutively?
That preconception turned out to say more about me than it did about the movie show.
Like Dory’s co-protagonist Marlin, I was peremptorily delimiting my outlook, presumptuously closing doors on situations and so therefore upon opportunities, without having adequate reason.
But Marlin has better reason to pamper his prejudices that I had; his experience is that he has much reason to fear for the future and so to over-protect Nemo, to the point of control freaking, and nurturing life-denying phobias. This is his disability.
Interestingly we recognize Dory’s disability straight away; she sits in the first place as the immediate focus of disability in the film. Only gradually do we become educated to understand that it is Marlin who is far the more severely disabled, and that Dory has marvelously blossomed to overcome hers, and is able to compensate more than adequately.
The pivotal point of the movie occurs in the whale’s throat. Is this monster friend or foe; is it going to end their stories or fulfill them? Neither Marlin nor Dory know, and then the following dialogue between them:
Dory: Get in his throat; do like the whale says,
Marlin: Is it going to be alright?
Dory: I DON’T KNOW!!!
…and they then bite the bullet and together go for broke. They surface in Sydney Harbour Bay.
It strikes me that at this point is expressed the kernel of the crisis in Marlin’s need for a faith, in the future, in others, in a sense of Providence even, and that his situation here chimes pretty closely with that sick child’s father in Mark’s Gospel, who cries out in his anguish:
‘And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears,
‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.’’
Marlin torn; Marlin wanting, yearning for a happy ending, but Marlin not quite able to believe that there is a saving grace embedded as a jewel in reality; that informs us that, as another children’s story says: ‘Miracles are made in the heart’.
The experience of being with her at last convinces him that Dory’s is not just an idiotic blind faith of a fairytale kind. Dory may be scatterbrained, annoying, perplexing, lovable, constant; but she’s divined a truth about life that Marlin has not yet. And for us too as beholders, the whole point about Dory is her character; and it is for us to learn and to internalize within us that her matured character is what super-compensates for her inability to hold onto a common thought for two minutes straight.
Dory is a character who is secure, constant, and joyously upheld by her sense of trust in the General Goodwill; in that to ask for help will be obliged; in that there is, in spite of all its threatening unknowns, a common thread under the sea that sanctifies all creation there; a thread of common kindliness. The trauma Marlin has undergone had shattered utterly any germinal sense of such a trust and goodwill in his heart; but maybe, just maybe, he had to undergo that ordeal before he might be able to become liberated from himself?
‘…and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage’.
So, to go back to the beginning and to take up the theme: Dory’s eyes are the clear and certain ones, and Marlin’s eyes are the eyes that are bleared. Dory sees life more truly than does Marlin. St Paul writes of his experience of meeting the Risen Christ, that ‘the scales fell from my eyes’. So did they for Marlin, courtesy of his ‘damaged goods’ friend Dory.
You might ask, Why give any metaphysical significance to the film ‘Finding Nemo’? Isn’t it just about a recovery from post traumatic stress syndrome; about the social reintegration of a psychologically wounded father? And why dig any deeper?
The truth goes back to that jewel discerned by us as though ‘through a glass darkly’ and embedded in our reality; to its objective and independent life and presence; in the experience of the lives of so many earnest men and women who have pledged their lives and sometimes their deaths on its intimations of something greater than Solomon, and greater than Jonah, being here.
These Disney pieces I am writing are just threads taken up from what I must tentatively propose might be a woven fabric of beneficent natural law; they are being taken up to show them off as things of natural and transcendental beauty in themselves: and their positions within that fabric are as binding parts that might well be vital to its completeness, but yet remain just some few among myriad.
There are in our world I believe, these threads of the Divine, partly beheld by us, and that bind reality.
I believe that history, literature, movies, and story-telling of all kinds; is one fresh wellspring and source of living water, whose flow, and purity, and flavour is replenished continually and continuously by the spirit of God as he is to be discovered by any of us in The Bible.