Finding Nemo – Risk Takers

Thematic Reflection

Marlin is a clown fish, but he’s not that funny. Actually, he isn’t funny at all. More than being incapable of telling a joke, he has lost his ability to embrace the simplest joys in life. Fear and anxiety have paralyzed this humorless fish. He is unwilling to take even the slightest risk because he fears that he might lose something or, worse, someone else.

While he may be guilty of overreacting at times, Marlin’s fears are based in real experiences. He has legitimate reasons for his anxiety. His wife and all but one of his precious children were taken from him in a display of nature’s brutal indifference. In fact, this devastating series of events punctuates the opening segment of Finding Nemo (see Clip 1), which means that the rest of Marlin’s story is framed not only by what he has already lost, but also by what he needs to find as he desperately searches for his son.

Nemo’s story on the other hand is marked by the kind of risk-taking that defines youthful exuberance. It isn’t that Nemo is reckless, but he longs to live a life unencumbered by his father’s fears, a life shot through with a wide-eyed sense of wonder that has no room for cynicism or anxiety. Of course, Nemo has no memory of his mother or siblings. He hasn’t experienced loss in the way that his father has and, thus, cannot fully understand Marlin’s trepidation toward life. While Marlin’s pain-filled experiences have shaped his perspective of the ocean’s potential dangers, Nemo is blissfully unaware of what truly lurks in the dark waters beyond the reef. Here then is the film’s central tension: a father who wants to hold on to his fear, but needs to let go, and a son who wants to experience the fullness of life, but needs wisdom.

In Genesis 22, we meet a man whose life experiences have given him every reason to be fearful about what he might lose. God has promised Abraham numerous descendants. In their old age, God has blessed Abraham and his wife Sara with a son, Isaac, to carry on their lineage. The whole enterprise depends upon this lone individual. There is no one else.

Yet, out of the blue, God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a demonstration of his trust in God as the sole guarantor of the divine promise. The drama unfolds in such a way that neither we nor Abraham or Isaac are entirely sure that God is going to come through in the end. This endeavor is filled with real risk and unthinkable consequences. Abraham is not just play-acting; he doesn’t know the outcome. But more, there is a sense in which God is taking a risk here too. God is placing the future of the chosen people into the hands of this fearful, anxiety-ridden man. So God isn’t play-acting either. God really does ask something of Abraham—something that requires Abraham to let go of his belief that somehow he is the author of his own fate.

Much like Marlin and Abraham, something happens to us as we age. Each new loss adds to a long history of wounds that we have already endured. Slowly and almost unconsciously we begin to tighten our grip on that which we cherish most, never realizing that our attempts to stem the tide of future sorrows are actually shackling the ones we love. But as Dory reminds Marlin, “You can’t never let anything happen to [Nemo], then nothing would ever happen to him” (see Clip 2).

The God of Abraham calls us to walk a similar path. It isn’t a call to be reckless and naïve, but to trust God with our future, even when it requires us to risk losing all that we hold dear. When we do, we discover a whole new depth to the world in which we live—an ocean that is murky and dark, but one that is also teeming with life and color and joy. 

Key Scenes

Clip 1

Clip 2

Discussion Questions

For Adults

Watch Clip 1.

1) What have you lost?
2) Are the things for which you long an extension of this sense of loss?
3) How do you find the balance between recklessness and fearful trepidation? How would you communicate that to your children or to any young person?

Watch Clip 2, and read Genesis 22:1-18.

1) Has God ever asked you to risk something that you value?
2) How did you respond?
3) How have your experiences of loss shaped your understanding of God’s trustworthiness?

For Families

Watch Clip 1.

1) What have we lost as a family? How has that changed our relationship to each other and to God?
2) For parents: are you parenting “scared”’ What do you desperately want your children to know about how the world works? Tell them.
3) For children/siblings: Do you feel your parents ever keep you from experiencing the fullness of life? What do you want your parents to know about why you take the risks you do? Tell them.

Watch Clip 2, and read Genesis 22:1-18.

1) Who has more to lose in this story? Abraham or Isaac? Why?
2) Has God ever asked you to risk something that you value? How did you respond?
3) How have your experiences of loss shaped your understanding of God’s trustworthiness?

For Students

Watch Clip 1.

1) What have you lost that was meaningful to you?
2) Are you parents like Marlin in any way? How does that affect you? What would you like to tell them?
3) What kind of risks do you take? Are they wise?

Watch Clip 2, and read Genesis 22:1-18.

1) Who has more to lose in this story? Abraham or Isaac? Why?
2) Has God ever asked you to risk something that you value? How did you respond?
3) Do you trust God with your future? Why or why not?

For Children

Watch Clip 1. Due to the intensity of this scene, it may not be suitable for all ages.

1) Why is Marlin worried for his son Nemo?
2) Have you ever lost anything? How did that make you feel?
3) Do your parents ever ask you to make different decisions? Why do they do that?

Watch Clip 2, and read Genesis 22:1-18.

1) Why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac?
2) Has God ever asked you to risk something you love? What did you do?
3) What does it mean to you to trust God? Do you trust God?

Related Scriptures
Some time after these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am!” Abraham replied. God said, “Take your son—your only son, whom you love, Isaac—and go to the land of Moriah! Offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will indicate to you.”

Early in the morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took two of his young servants with him, along with his son Isaac. When he had cut the wood for the burnt offering, he started out for the place God had spoken to him about.
On the third day Abraham caught sight of the place in the distance. So he said to his servants, “You two stay here with the donkey while the boy and I go up there. We will worship and then return to you.”
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and put it on his son Isaac. Then he took the fire and the knife in his hand, and the two of them walked on together.  Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?” “What is it, my son?” he replied. “Here is the fire and the wood,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham replied. The two of them continued on together.

When they came to the place God had told him about, Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood on it. Next he tied up his son Isaac and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand, took the knife, and prepared to slaughter his son. But the Lord’s angel called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am!” he answered. “Do not harm the boy!” the angel said. “Do not do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God because you did not withhold your son, your only son, from me.”

Abraham looked up and saw behind him a ram caught in the bushes by its horns. So he went over and got the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place “The Lord provides.” It is said to this day, “In the mountain of the Lord provision will be made.”

The Lord’s angel called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “‘I solemnly swear by my own name,’ decrees the Lord, ‘that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the strongholds of their enemies. Because you have obeyed me, all the nations of the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using the name of your descendants.’”
(Genesis 22:1-18)

More Resources for Further Reflection and Discussion
Formative Assessment vs Summative Assessment 

Family