Fish are friends; and examples of faith too

By The Beacon | September 12, 2012 9:00pm

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Professor Karen Eifler and Fr. Charlie Gordon find grace and faith as Marlin finds Nemo.

“Finding Nemo” was the focus of the “Bringing Eyes of Faith to Film” discussion on Tuesday, Sept. 11, led by professor Karen Eifler and Fr. Charlie Gordon. (Walt Disney)

By Amanda Blas, Staff Writer blas13@up.edu

Fish have quite a role in faith. They have been eaten as a staple of the biblical diet and have even been the eaters as seen in Jonah and the whale. But who knew that three fish by the name of Marlin, Dory and Nemo could swim their way onto the scene of faith?

Professor Karen Eifler and Fr. Charlie Gordon knew. Their series "Bringing Eyes of Faith to Film," gives UP has a chance to see how "Finding Nemo" and other non-religious movies are able to capture themes of grace and faith.

To most people, "Finding Nemo" seems like the typical Disney Pixar film: Nemo goes missing and his father Marlin goes on quite an adventure to get him back. You will laugh, you will cry and you will feel a whirlwind of emotions. That's what Disney Pixar does best. But according to Gordon, it is the film's play on emotions that tie it in so greatly to faith. It is the feelings we get about the movie that make it so powerful and emphasize its themes of grace and faith.

Gordon relates "Finding Nemo" to scripture. He points out the more obvious connection between Jonah and Nemo and Dory, all of whom were swallowed by a whale. Gordon goes deeper by pointing out the connection between Nemo and Marlin and the "Parable of the Prodigal Son": just as the prodigal son goes missing and doubts his father, so too does Nemo. However, in the end, both are found and both gain renewed faith in their fathers.

Eifler, on the other hand, looks at smaller details of the film. She focuses on Dory, the lone fish who suffers from short-term memory loss. According to Eifler, Dory is not just Marlin's companion when looking for Nemo. Dory is a great example of a prophet, following in the line of prophets such as Isaiah and Micah. Dory lacks the qualification to be a prophet, as most prophets do. However, Dory finds herself able to take on the role by the grace of God. As Eifler said, "God doesn't call the qualified, God qualifies the called."

In addition, many people can recall Dory's wise words she often spoke to Marlin along their journey. Eifler hits on this as another key aspect of a prophet: prophets can speak profound truth with simple words; Think Dory's insight on Marlin's thoughts of not wanting anything to happen to Nemo: "You don't actually want nothing to happen to him. That's not interesting. That's not what life's about."

A Disney Pixar movie seems like an odd place to find faith and grace, but it is the combination of the emotions that audiences feel from the movies and the ability to portray religious concepts that make it such a powerful outlet of faith. Being able to see the religious concepts of faith in film allows one to feel the emotions that are associated with those concepts.

For many people, these emotions are not simply felt by reading the scripture or hearing the scripture. A film makes the stories of theology real, bringing it to life in a way many people would never have considered before.

Eifler and Gordon are a dynamic duo when it comes to hitting the spiritual context of movies that most people doubt have any relation to faith at all. Their film series demonstrates how theology can be seen everywhere, including in popular culture. Word of advice: check out the next film in their series or one of the podcasts they will be launching soon. Gaining eyes of faith to film can help one gain a new perspective on film in general.


Fr. Charlie Gordon sees Dory in the film “Finding Nemo” as a prophet for Marlin, who is in search of his lost son. (The Beacon)

Professor Karen Eifler believes Dory is a qualified prophet by the grace of God. She also says Dory speaks truthful and wise words. (The Beacon)

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