observations and opinion
What I found in Finding Dory
Warning: this article contains major spoilers about “Finding Dory.” If you haven’t seen the film but plan to, stop reading. If you don’t plan to see it, you should see it, so stop reading.
Now that nobody is reading, I will continue.
* * *
As “Finding Dory” hits big screens worldwide, viewers and reviewers will note the film’s unusual theme – recognizing the abilities we gain from our disabilities. Unlike the hundreds of films about overcoming limitations (see this article on that phenomenon), Finding Dory wants us to understand that what we see as impairments can, in fact, be the seat of other, superior talents.
Every major character is disabled: Dory’s short term memory loss, Nemo’s stunted fin, Barclay’s broken echo location, Destiny’s eyesight, Hank’s missing tentacle, and so on. Even the wacky bird who totes our heroes around in a pail of water is “challenged” – she seems to have some kind of extreme avian Asperger’s (if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand). And for each, the disability is the cause of some comedy, some trauma and – as it turns out – some magic.
The characters not afflicted with obvious cognitive or physical impairments are the parents: Nemo’s dad Marlon (receding nicely to second banana status in this sequel) and Dory’s long lost family, Jenny and Charlie. What the parents are afflicted with is love – love of their wounded progeny. And what these parents do with their love reflects their inner lives and affects their children.
For Marlon, love translates into fear of losing his kid: he felt that way before “Finding Nemo”, he feels that way still. Every flutter of his son’s fin sends Marlon into fits. What Marlon doesn’t understand – until Nemo explains it to him in no uncertain terms – is that a parent’s fear (and lack of confidence in the child) can be more debilitating than any disability.
For Jenny and Charlie, whose child is so impaired that she can barely remember the conversation she’s having, losing Dory should have meant losing all hope. But whether through abiding optimism or just deep denial, love translates into faith: faith that someday, their lost child Dory will return.
And it is what Jenny and Charlie do with that hope, and how they help Dory find her way home, that was – for at least one parent in the audience on Fathers’ Day – the single most affecting moment of the film.
Dory is at the depths of the ocean, and of despair, having been separated from her gang of friends yet again. She asks the key question, “What would Dory do?” and begins to follow her own method for figuring something out, by paying close attention to her surroundings and listening to her instincts. She traces the sand, carefully and slowly, until she sees something: a seashell. Then another, then another, then another.
It is there, in the pattern of the shells laid out before her, that a memory bursts into Dory’s mind: the trick invented by her parents, long ago, to help their wayward, forgetful child find her way home. And as the camera pans backward, we see what Dory’s parents have been doing every day since she disappeared: laying long tracks of shells, radiating outward like rays of sunshine, like the roads of Paris – all converging at a centre point: home.
This was the one moment when I felt that pang of recognition, that small ache familiar to parents: we know our children, or hope we do. But what if we don’t? What happens if we listen only to ourselves, and our ideas about who our kids should be and become?
If we don’t know our children, if we deny who they really are and dwell heavily upon who we wish they were – well then, what good are we to them? For a time we can keep them contained in a bubble of safety and love. But when the bubble bursts, as it inevitably must, will our children know where to go next? Will they know how to come home? Will they ever want to?
If part of our job, as parents, is to teach our children to expect and deserve respect, that must begin with respecting our children. Not just for who we think they might become, or imagine them to be, but for who they are.
In the end Dory, thanks to the abiding confidence of her parents ( who leave the pathway there for her to follow) trusts her own special abilities to find a way home. “You did it, Dory!” says her mom. And her great big fish eyes open wide at the recognition that, notwithstanding her frustrating limitations, Dory did in fact, do it.
That’s where this dad, sitting next to his daughter, felt it.
And so it is that Finding Dory is not, as it first seems, about a flock of sea friends searching for their forgetful blue friend. It is about her friends – and Dory herself – finding out who Dory really is. And it is about us, parents, finding out who our children really are.