Warning this post contains spoilers for the film “Finding Dory”
I may sound a bit outlandish when I say that Pixar’s long-awaited sequel to “Finding Nemo” contained a more provoking story than the original. It is not often that I can say that about a sequel, but what “Finding Nemo” does in relating to the human experience of wanting to find and be found by those we love, “Finding Dory” proves even more touching by appealing to the common desire we all have for finding a place to belong and call home.
The film opens with a young Dory growing up in an aquarium with two kind and concerned parents who fear for what kind of future Dory may have with severe short-term memory loss. And it is only a matter of minutes into the film when I knew where this film was heading… It was hard not to cry while watching Young Dory ask her parents, “What if I forget you?” and then alarmingly—yet so humanly—jumping to the next question of “Will you forget me?”
This is a question, if I consider it honestly, I ask internally of friends and family. However, it is the tender young Dory voicing that question aloud. It is a question in which I believe we are all probably asking—whether that is to our parents, friends, spouse, or God.
Dory, of course as evidenced by the title, ends up getting lost from her parents and her home and for a while really does forget about her parents. Ironically though, I found there was a double meaning at work. While Dory is lost from her original home, she does find a new home among Marlin and Nemo (as seen in the original film) but then soon finds herself missing from both homes.
This is something I found quite powerful in this film. Neither does the film elevate friends over biological family or elevate biological family over friends but sees them both as good and in cooperation with one another. We need our friends and family members to help cultivate the idea of home, but like the film, not all of us necessarily have guaranteed access to biological families— whether by birth, locale, estrangement, death, or by other reasons.
For some of us, the idea of home is a sad one and the feeling of homesickness is a painful one especially when there is no home to feel sick about. The feeling that no one is coming to look for us or that everyone has forgotten about us, is not an unusual one in this world marked by loneliness and isolation. And this film really makes me wrestle with that.
When Dory after a long trek across the ocean finally makes it back to where she believes she will find her parents, she is for a brief period shaken by the assumed death of her parents. She exclaims in a moment of despair and grief, “I have no family!” and in a matter of seconds the family she had once forgotten briefly becomes a family she will never have again. But in her panic, you can hear Nemo pleading “That’s not true, Dory!” trying to gently break through to her that she still certainly has a family and a home— despite not having parents to prove it.
There was a moment I was certain that this was how the film would end: Dory surrounded by all her friends grieving the loss of the family she only barely ever had. Considering the genre, this probably would not have appealed to many, and of course Dory does end up finding her parents alive. However, the film really does not end as expected.
Surprisingly, rather than leaving her home among Nemo and Marlin, she returns back with her family and her new friends to the home she already has. Her home was at the Great Barrier Reef rather than the aquarium. Her home was not just for herself but for those around her. Her home was not her home but their home. Similarly to the church, the community Dory had with Nemo and Marlin was one marked by water rather than biological ties. Rather than inviting Nemo and Marlin to be a part of Dory’s old family, she reverses it and invites her parents and her new friends into her, Nemo, and Marlin’s wider aquatic home.
Dory’s story begins with the existentially charged question of “Will I be without a family and forgotten?” and ends with an answer: “I was not forgotten and I found an even bigger family.” And for those of us in the church, this story contains an element of rich truth: we are being pursued, we are not forgotten, we have been brought into a wide, diverse family, and we are promised a redeemed home. There will surely be days where we will feel that fear of being forgotten and never having a place to belong, but in the family of God, even in death, separation, and loneliness, our stories will not ultimately end in homelessness.