Sunday, April 03, 2011

Losing My Soul: Joe vs. The Volcano Film Analysis

(Here is my first attempt at a video film analysis.  Joe vs. The Volcano has fascinated me for years.  There's a lot more to it than what appears on the surface.)  The video is in three parts.  I've also included a written version of the analysis below.)

(Youtube embedded files don't always seem to work so here's the link to the actual Youtube page.)

Losing My Soul: Joe vs. The Volcano Film Analysis

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

When you consider the movie, Joe vs. the Volcano, you must remember that it was released in 1990. This was before Philadelphia or Forrest Gump. Tom Hanks, at this time, was mostly considered to be a physical comic actor. Audiences were used to seeing Hanks in rather buffoonish roles in movies like Bachelor Party, Volunteers, and Dragnet. Joe vs. the Volcano seems to be a rather silly title, so it was natural for audiences to expect to see a screwball comedy.

Audiences and critics didn’t seem to think too highly of the movie. It was generally panned and it did not stay in theaters for very long. It seemed to come across as a weak screwball comedy that had only occasional funny moments and nothing truly memorable.

Yet for some, the movie’s bizarreness seemed to linger in their minds and in subsequent viewings, most likely from their homes, many started to detect that there was something more to Joe vs. the Volcano than what they saw in their first viewing.

Let’s take a close look and explore some of the hidden themes.

The very first thing we see is a placard. The words “Once upon a time” are a clue that this is a fairy tale. The characters, places, and events are mostly made up. Fairy tales also often have elements of magic or the supernatural so this simple placard is a clue to what follows. Also notice the nursery rhyme music indicating something child-like.

Joe Banks, played by Tom Hanks is going to work. We are hearing a song with the words “I owe my soul to the company store” Joe, as well as a mass of people, apparently in a dazed state, are walking like zombies to a factory. This is an everyday ritual of getting up early and going to work that many of us can relate to.

The song “Sixteen Tons” reveals the slightly hidden story within the story. Joe vs. the Volcano is basically the classic story of making a deal with the Devil and losing your soul. There is also a theme of personal redemption.

Joe is among the myriad of people who have no meaning in their lives other than going to their job every morning. Their dazed state and dreary surroundings hint they are in some kind of limbo – between awake and asleep. They are barely aware of the awfulness of their situation and they seemed to have stopped caring long ago. These people are unaware that they have traded their souls for a dull, meaningless life.

The sign of the Devil is a crooked line and we see it as the logo of the company Joe works for. We soon see it again as the camera moves upwards revealing that the path the workers are taking is the same crooked line. This scene will be played out again. In fact, the whole movie is essentially a crooked and wide path to redemption that Joe takes. This contradicts the traditional dogma that redemption is found by walking a straight and narrow path.

Joe walks in to the advertising department. It features poor lighting, drab colors, a broken hat rack, and an annoying buzzing sound from the fluorescent lighting. The employees are in their own little worlds – oblivious to anything around them. This is particularly true with Mr. Waturi. Mr. Waturi is on the phone engaged in a pointless, seemingly endless argument. The prosthetic testicles on his desk reflect his lack of manhood. These people have horribly mundane jobs and lives. They dress in dark colored clothes and appear half-dead. They are soulless.

Only Joe seems a bit different. While he has the same deadpan look as everybody else, he seems a bit more active and aware of his surroundings. Once he gets to his desk, he pulls out a child’s reading lamp. The lamp is colorful and contrasts everything else in the office. This is an indication that though Joe is in limbo like everybody else, he doesn’t seem as far gone and the lamp symbolizes that he has hope. When he turns on the lamp, a tropical island with a volcano appears on it. This is also symbolic as this forebears Joe’s destiny with a volcano. While the red and orange image of the volcano contrasts the drabness of the office, it also indicates danger. Indeed, the volcano represents hell itself. The nursery-rhyme music; however reflect Joe’s child-like demeanor. It’s the same music we heard when the “Once upon a time…” text appeared earlier.

In case the hidden story is too hidden, Joe brings it out in an obvious way when he tells Deedee, played by Meg Ryan, “I’m losing my sole.” Deedee, whom we’ll see more of later, comes across as totally non-assuming, too accepting, and very dull.
Even worse though, is Joe’s boss, Mr. Waturi. He obviously lives to work. It is all he is about. To him, there is nothing beyond the office. He can’t comprehend why Joe doesn’t share the same dedication to his job. Mr. Waturi can’t stand Joe’s lamp and makes him put it away.

Joe seems to deal with his co-workers like a child dealing with his parents, perpetuating the notion that Joe is basically, a child. Mr. Waturi has no childishness left in him and resents it in Joe.

We see Joe in a Doctor’s waiting room. He is shielding his eyes as if he is hiding from something. He is hiding from the real world. Part of Joe wants to die and this has made him a hypochondriac. He is secretly hoping he will be afflicted with some deadly disease so that his horrible life will soon be over.

Note that the waiting room is plain and dull – as is the nurse. She is just like everybody else just living a lousy, meaningless life. Contrast this with the Doctor’s office. It features warm colors. The fire in the fireplace gives it life. Here, we discover that Joe used to be a fireman. He saved people from fire. In the soul-selling allegory, this makes Joe a fallen angel as he is no longer saving others from hell. He has allowed himself to become a victim instead.

Notice how the Doctor doesn’t seem to even know what a fireman is. He asks “What did you do in the fire department?” and “Was it dangerous?” Allegorically, the Doctor is not human. He is in league with the Devil. We’ll see that he is setting Joe up to sell his soul. The fire behind Joe and the redness in the room are evidence of this.

The Doctor informs Joe that he has a terminal condition called a “brain-cloud”. This is fitting since Joe’s mind is definitely in a fog, as it has been since he left the fire department. Joe anxiously asks if it is incurable as if he wants the answer to be “yes”. Notice also how Joe shows no disappointment, despair, or any negative emotion over finding out he is going to die within six months.

Finding out he has only six months to live seems to flip a switch in Joe. He starts acting like the proverbial man who had a brush with death and now appreciates life so much more. This is of course, the opposite of this situation. Back at work, things are just the way he left them. Mr. Waturi is in another pointless conversation and everybody else is minding their own business. Joe stirs things up. He briefly interacts with Deedee and with Frank. He mocks Waturi with a prosthetic arm, again suggesting Waturi’s lack of humanity.

Joe’s closing the valve suggests he is regaining his bravery and is going to try new things. It scares the hell out of soulless Mr. Waturi. In a sudden inspiration, Joe quits his job. The three books – Robinson Crusoe, Romeo & Juliet, and The Odyssey foretell his upcoming adventures. He leaves the lamp with Deedee. He is passing the torch in hope that Deedee can find her childlike wonder in the lamp. In his speech to Mr. Waturi, Joe no longer behaves like a frightened child, but a giant compared to the others in the room. Joe suddenly realizes the ridiculousness of his whole situation

We now see Joe and Deedee on a date. Joe is doing all the talking. Note how he is focused on only himself and Deedee – as if they are the only two people who matter. Joe is full of energy but he lacks direction. Like the Doctor’s office, the restaurant is colorful and features a lot of red. This again, hints that the Devil is near and Joe is ripe for the taking.

Deedee, with her brown hair, acts as the goddess of the Earth. She is nature and Joe is reaching into the supernatural which is beyond her reasoning. Deedee is overwhelmed. She can’t understand Joe’s change. It enchants her but it also frightens her. It’s unclear here as to which side will win out.

As they leave the restaurant, we see that a volcano is visible on a poster titled “Fire in Paradise”. Joe seems to be in paradise, but it is a false one. Joe is celebrating his upcoming death when he should be celebrating his life. An erupting volcano on a welcoming tropical island reflects this paradox.

At his apartment, Joe tells Deedee his bad news. This is the final straw for Deedee. She is not ready to deal with something like this. She leaves Joe forever.

Samuel Graynamore enters Joe’s apartment the next morning and now we see a large scar on Joe’s wall. It’s the same crooked line that represents his former company and, as we know, the Devil. Mr. Graynamore is no one else but the Devil himself. Here, Joe is given the Faustian bargain – that is for Joe to get all his heart’s desires and pay the price later. Specifically, Joe is given carte blanche to spend huge sums of money, live like a king, be treated as a hero, and then finally jump into a volcano. Joe doesn’t even think about it very long before agreeing to the deal. This just shows how lost Joe really is.

Joe is ready to go on a Manhattan shopping spree and satisfy every materialistic lust he has. This fits exactly into the Devil’s plan as Joe will lose what’s left of his soul with his greed. However, help is on the way – in the form of the limousine driver Marshall. Marshall is basically Joe’s guardian angel and subtly tries to steer him right. Joe doesn’t know where to go or what to buy – again indicating how directionless he is.

But Marshall won’t directly tell him either. He wants Joe to make these decisions. Marshall says “clothes make the man” and later tells Joe he has no clothes hinting that Joe isn’t a man, but a child. As a guardian angel, Marshall is constantly giving Joe advice. Later, Marshall later tells Joe he is “coming into focus” once Joe has new clothes and a new haircut.

Joe encounters the luggage man. Here is a real lost soul. All he seems to think about or talk about is luggage. He reminds us of Joe’s former co-workers who live meaningless, petty lives. Notice however, the blue sky covering the door to the steamer trunk. This, the star on the floor, and the choir that chants are indications of heaven. The trunks represent a gift from heaven.

Marshall’s mentoring puts Joe on the correct path of life. When Joe tells Marshall “There are certain doors you got to go through alone.” Marshall smiles, as this confirms that Joe is finding direction and himself.

Upon reaching Los Angeles, Joe remarks “It looks fake. I like it.” Joe prefers living in a fairy tale world. Earlier, the hairdresser said he looks “like a prince in a fairy tale”.

Angelica, also played by Ryan, is very different than Deedee. She is weird and moody. She is also utterly self-absorbed and likes to talk about herself. When the subject is something other than about her, her favorite response is “I have no response to that.” Angelica, with her fiery-colored hair, clothes, and car, represents the goddess of the sun. Note how depressed she suddenly gets at night and she talks of killing herself.

Joe soon recognizes her as a fellow lost soul – more lost than he is. Joe asks her if, instead of killing herself, do what you’re afraid of doing, wouldn’t it be worth the risk? Joe had tried to help Deedee by giving her the child’s lamp. Now Joe is trying to put Angelica on the right path. Joe’s growth is evident here. He is selflessly trying to help a fellow human being. Note how, unlike with Deedee, he chooses not to bring Angelica to his hotel room. He also never tells Angelica about his situation.

Knowing what we know about the two previous Meg Ryan characters, it’s easy to deduce that Patricia is the Moon goddess. She remarks that the sunshine gets her down. It’s clear that she and Angelica the Sun, don’t get along.

Patricia is another lost soul. She is ashamed at herself for performing a service for her father in exchange for a boat. To her, it is a compromise of principle so she, like Joe, took the Faustian bargain. Joe begins to bond with Patricia, something he couldn’t do with Deedee or Angelica. They are all lost souls but Patricia seems a kindred spirit. Like Joe, she is aware of what she has done and is rediscovering herself.

The crew are enjoying themselves fishing the next day. However, the shark, like the “Fire in Paradise” poster, is an omen. It forebodes that not all is well and there is danger ahead.

Joe and Patricia bond further that night. Joe asks Patricia if she believes in God and Patricia answers “I believe in myself.” After all, she is a god in the underlying story. It’s interesting how Joe seems to see no difference between a tropical island he is going to and Staten Island where he is coming from. We already know Staten Island is full of lost souls and we’ll soon see the Waponi Wu is no different. Patricia remarks that her father told her that most of the world is asleep and the few who aren’t live in a state of constant, total amazement. We already know this to be true and who better to make this observation than the devil himself, who preys upon those who choose to sleep through life.

Joe looks back at his life and realizes how different both he and his life are now as to when he was working in the factory – more indications that Joe is growing as a person.

When Joe told Deedee about his predicament, she was overwhelmed and refused to deal with it. Joe had the good sense to not even bother to tell the self-absorbed Angelica. Joe does decide to explain it all to Patricia. Patricia is a bit shocked, but seems to accept it. This is more evidence of her similarities with Joe.

Note how there are candles and sunflowers behind Joe. The candles remind us of the candlelight dinner with Deedee while the sunflowers represent Angelica. Twice in the movie, Joe tells one of the women that he felt he had seen her before. Deedee, Angelica, and Patricia represent different parts of the same woman – which is why Meg Ryan plays all three parts. So Joe is basically addressing all three of them as the symbols in the background suggest.

Joe may have sold his soul, but he now seems to be re-claiming it. He has full self-awareness and a true love of life. He has also met the women he was meant to be with. For Joe to fully claim his soul back, he will have to be severely tested. A one-time firefighter, Joe bravely rescues Patricia when she is knocked overboard. Here we see the storm was brought on by the devil as we see the lightning bolt in the shape of the crooked path strike and destroy the boat.

Not all is hopeless, though. The trunks he had bought come to the surface. These trunks represent Joe’s guardian angel Marshall as Joe had purchased them with Marshall’s assistance. He is being looked after.

Joe sacrifices himself to try to save the now unconscious Patricia. He doesn’t drink any water. Joe spends days and nights in solitude with only the music from the radio and his ukulele to keep him company. Joe seems to maintain good spirits. Joe is going through the type of fast associated with Jesus. Fasts in religions have a cleansing effect and Joe is being rid of the pettiness he once had. If Joe survives the fast, he’ll emerge as something greater than a mere man.

The rising giant Moon serves as a signal that Patricia, who represents the Moon, is coming back. Keep in mind that the other nights shown were Moonless so a sudden full Moon is a magical event. It also symbolizes that Joe’s personal growth is complete. Where earlier, it was uncertain of whether or not he believed in God, he now thanks God for his life. Joe is now the man he was meant to be, not the cowering child he was at the beginning of the movie, but a selfless, heroic, leader.

The Waponis are lost souls. They traded their souls for orange soda. They traded their God-fearing culture into one of western decadence. No one of the tribe is willing to sacrifice himself or herself for the good of the tribe. Enter Joe, the savior and that is how he is treated. As Jesus was welcomed into the temple in a celebration of palms, Joe is given similar treatment. Note the Jewish song being sung here.

At the feast, we see a Waponi wearing a very strange, yet familiar mask.  It's familiar because it is a mock up of the factory Joe used to work in.  Notice also, that a Waponi appears to have a pyramid painted on one hand and an eye on another - a masonic symbol.  These images reinforce the idea that Waponi Wu is really no different than Staten Island, or Manhattan Island.  They're all full of lost souls.

Once again, we see the crooked path symbol, this time, as an actual crooked path up the way to hell. Joe is perfectly willing to sacrifice himself for these soulless people. He accepts it as his duty and is willing to forsake his newly found love to do what he feels is right. Patricia, in finding Joe, has found herself as well and realizes her place is with him no matter what. So she and Joe leap into the volcano to destroy themselves by descending into hell to save the Waponis.

But… an unexpected thing happens. Hell rejects the two who have proven themselves so worthy and instead, consumes the Waponis. This contradicts the Christian story as the soulless are not saved.

Joe and Patricia are once again saved by the trunks and are now Gods themselves and will live “away from the things of Man and happily ever after”.

Or will they? Going back on board the Tweedle Dee – Patricia’s boat, Patricia told Joe about how sleeping on a boat affects your dreams What if the whole part of the movie that followed was just a dream through Wonderland?


Anonymous said...

Great thoughts! I love this movie and am discovering more each time. Thank you for giving this insight.

Anonymous said...

I am an English teacher and this movie is a gem in teaching archetypes, symbolism, mythology, and Joseph Campbell's hero cycle. Thanks for a great post.

Pearlie Catalyst said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to post such a comprehensive study. My Husband and I are Christian and have watched this movie many times realising that the content was so symbolic. But you have taken it to another level! I was just contemplating the other day about the docs waiting room compared with the docs office, also that Patricia says "whither thou goest..." at the alter. We have read the Heros'/Writers journey and are in the process of writing our own musical. Well done, I will share this over and over. And wherever I go, I'll still have my trunks!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe this...
That I can Identify with what you revealed in your analysis and the deeper parts of this movie prove i'm insane or just like everybody thank you so much for your input. i'd love to watch Joe v Volcano with you. i'm not kidding. that you get it means you probably also get Fantastic Mr. Fox...and that is true serendipity...! Actually, any of you other posters too...we need to chat!

Joe Clifford said...

This is one of my favorite movies. Yes, it's flawed, and the Deus Ex Machina ending somewhat unforgivable. But it hits such a profound chord re: the trappings of modern life and capitalism. The scene where Joe quits is devastating and life-affirming. Thanks for taking the time and the detailed analysis.

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Anonymous said...

This was a fantastic analysis. I first saw this movie as a young kid (thank you Dad for showing it to my sister and me), and as such didn't understand any of the symbology, but appreciated the movie as a comedy and just for being weird. I have watched it dozens of times over the years and began to recognize a lot of symbology such as the obvious crooked path recurring throughout. However, I'm not smart enough to figure out what it all meant, so thank you for elucidating it for me. There's one symbol which I noticed that you didn't mention. When Joe and DeDe are having dinner, he extends his open hand to her, and she puts her tightly balled fist into it. Later, when Joe and Patricia are about to jump into the volcano, he extends his open hand to her, to which she appears to react the same way, until right before her balled fist meets his hand. At that moment she opens it fully and interlocks fingers with his. I won't attempt to explain what this means, but I just thought it was interesting.

Skipper Steve Morris said...

Another symbol: Joe's hats. As he arrives at the factory, he has a hard time getting his hat to hang on the hat rack. When he quits his job Joe throws his hat in the garbage before leaving the office for good. After he leaves Angelica and sails off with Patricia, he takes off his "Jungle Jim" hat and throws it into the sea. The hats, I believe, symbolize a transition between his three stages of existence. In his third and last stage, Joe has no hat, symbolizing that his character is fully developed.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the make of the car that Joe drives. It looks very familiar like my first car I drove but I need help.

Robert E Wilson said...

Hello Skipper Steve Morris,

That's a nice observation about the hats.

Anonymous said...

It's a Studebaker ;-)

Anonymous said...

It proves that you are not insane :-)

ADEPT said...

Hi, great observations about this profound movie. I have some insight that id like to share. The volcano is symbolic of the sexual magic /Tantra/ The Holy Grail. They are pure and in love, they sacrifice their desires for something greater. By jumping in (to the mysteries) together is what grants them eternal life. Vulcan/The ninth spere/Sex/Alchemy. All symbolised here and also by the colour red, worn by Tibetan monks. Im not sure about the character you say is the devil, i think perhaps he is the Demiurg. Like the director character in Trueman Show. Thank u.

carolyn said...

I have loved this movie since I first saw it in the movie theater all those years ago...
Thank you for confirming my own archetypal musings about this very underrated film.

I turn on the tv today- January 2nd of 2016 and Joe Vs the Volcano is on HBO and I see that number 941 in front of the medical bldg Joe goes to. "941" must mean something (Joe vs the Volcano was pre-Matrix and we KNOW how the numbers in The Matrix are very symbolic....haven't figured it out ..yet...

btw in the Tarot deck The Devil is XIV and the Lovers are VI ....Joe and Patricia become paradoxically "unchained" from the "things of Man" (The Devil- matter- material) thru the Divine sacred love of the Lovers- ...all paradoxical like the Divine Feminine .....2016 = 9- wake up- we are waking up ... :)

Restin Pees said...

I often read that "there are two camps: those who hate it and those who love it" divided about 90-10. Not surprisingly, this is the same ratio of people who like pop music (90) and people who can't stand it (10).

My personal opinion is that the 90% represent those who sit in front of something on the screen and want it to be fed to them it little bites that don't require much chewing. It's OK if it tastes good, but not too much spice that it requires consideration or triggers the question, "Hmm, I wonder what they put in this." The are also the folks that sit passively in a detective/thriller waiting for the plot to unroll telling them each little detail. For these people, there are laugh tracks to help them recognize which parts are funny and prevent the embarrassment of being the only person laughing out loud in the room.

The 10% are the people who recognize by the colors, fonts and CSS of the opening credits that this is something else. This is going to have references to the old classic as well as "B" movies of the past. What it's saying is, "The story you are about to watch is not the story I am really telling you. This will be obvious by the total lack of surprise in the denouement. By the same token, every time the camera rests on anything for more than a second, there is another story I am trying to tell you.

The screenwriter is not trying to be smarter than us, he's just giving us the credit of being smart enough to catch the smiles, jokes and he has framed for us that find their analogs in each of our lives.

Anonymous said...

He works in the prosthetic dept. (An artificial device used to replace a missing body part, such as a limb or a heart valve. Replacement of a missing body part with such a device.)
Which indicates he and the others are faking their way thru life or their lives are fake.
Not the real Joe. He keeps throwing his hats away as though trying on and discarding different personas, none of which are the real Joe.

BigTexN said...

When Joe is with Narshall and gets his hair cut, the stylist remarks "Shazam!"

The symbol for Shazam is the same crooked line

Myvryn said...

Loved reading your take on the film. I watched it for the first time this last weekend. I was amazed at how Gilliam-esque it was in parts.

There were a couple things that kept popping up throughout the film that you didn't mention. 1) A goose. it showed up several times. 2) the Great Danes (don't know what they might represent, but they showed up several times and Joe himself even noted them.)

While watching I couldn't help but think that everything after his date with Deedee was a dream. The apartment seemed to get much more decrepit and cramped during the morning..

Anonymous said...

I always thought the duck (or goose) was an omen of Joe getting ridiculed. We first see the duck in the doctor's office, just before he tells Joe that he is sick (which is untrue). Then Mr Grainamore has a duck-shaped cane head which he brandishes as he tells Joe he needs him to sacrifice himself (even though he is the one who paid the doctor to tell joe a lie) and we see the bird on Joe's trunks just before the Waponis "cleanse" him and laugh at him.

Anonymous said...

There was a ton of symbolism in the movie - like the lilac suit on the old dude which symbolizes disappointment, don't rely on what you see or hear, the bolts of lightning everywhere signaling permanent transformation, lamps which is about shielding oneself, the duck which is about it is what it is, jumping off the boat that you are willing to confront stuff head on, the ripped sole (soul) of the shoe could mean that you are on a path that is new to you, or your soul will be metaphorically ripped around. Mr. Watoni and the Waponi...the whole thing is very dreamlike and the story follows his lamp. When he jumps into the volcano, like in a dream the extraordinary occurs and he gets a reprieve or a second chance but he turns back to his weirdness too a bit which is like how at first one claims it will all change but really, you are who you are and will only change what you want to change and he doesn't necessarily want everything to change. Anyway, the whole thing might be one big dream, period, which is interesting for sure. Like Lost (haha).

Anonymous said...

Nobody's talking about the ending. I say to my significant other all the time, "You are my pessimistic existentialist!" I love it when Patricia says something like, "It's always going to be something, isn't it Joe?" She has faith. She's an optimist. She knows they are going to be okay somehow, and then the luggage appears. She says something like, "We have the whole rest of our lives to live!" Instead of being depressed about their situation, she asks, "Who gets a honeymoon like this?" She also says at some point, "We'll just see. We'll take the leap and see." And so they sail off unto the future like all of us, not having a clue how it's going to turn out, but they're in it together, with faith, and smiles on their faces. (The theme of courage and faith was important to me.)

Geneva said...

I just read The Fall of the House of Usher by Poe and thought there might be a connection there too. In Usher, the narrator visits a friend who is in failing health due to some unknown disease. We learn that it isn't a real disease killing him, it is his own hypochondria and anxiety/depression- like Joe. His friends home is gloomy and depressing and he seems stuck there, just a place to wait for death, like Joe's office. There is also a zigzagging crack across the front of the house that symbolizes decay. Eventually the crack/decay spreads and the whole house sinks into a lake. If Joe hadn't fixed this decay/fissure through his soul he would've been engulfed by the volcano, just like the house and the lake.

Anyway, I don't know if the screenwriter meant to make a nod to Poe, but I certainly see some similarities.

penngos said...

All the Waponi died. That seems a high price for personal growth.

David said...

I just watched this movie for the first time, and I looked up some commentary. I really enjoyed your analysis and presentation. Really superb!
I'd like to add a bit more to the symbolism of regaining Joe's lost soul: In Kabbalah, there are three levels to the soul. I thought the idea of the same actress, Meg Ryan, playing the three female parts brings this out.
The first level is the nefesh, "animal soul", shared by humans and all sentiment life, which is concerned with the instinct for survival, procreation, and the like. It's the part of us seeking comfort. That's represented by Dee Dee, who shows the most physical side in lusting for Joe, but then panics at the thought of death and losing him. Then comes the ruach, "speaking spirit" – unique to mankind – which is represented by Angelica. This is the part of our soul buffered between the animal soul and the higher soul, where we make our decisions. In the movie, she wants to give up the fight and commit suicide. Finally Joe meets the neshama, the highest part of his soul, symbolized by Patricia (from the Latin for "noble"), who is searching for independence and meaning, willing to explore philosophical questions and infused with optimism.
I liked the message about the sacrifice he endures to preserve his relationship with the elevated soul, which brings him to the realization that he appreciates life and thanks God for being alive.
Also, I thought it was neat to note the similarity between Samuel Graynamore and Samael.(

Blogger said...

I also note that Joe plays the ukulele immediately before the introduction of three metaphysical characters: the devil (Samuel Graynamore), his guardian angel (limo driver preparing him for his journey) and god (the moon).

Greg said...

Sorry to be late to the party. Thank you for your great insights. A gentleman around Salt Lake had assembled lots of material relating the elements of this movie to Campbell's hero cycle and to progress in Christ's gospel. Fascinating stuff. We loved listening to his ideas as well.

The luggage saves Joe and Patricia TWICE. It must represent the principles Joe has learned that will survive his death/s, because you can't take anything with you except what you ahve learned and who you've become. Thus, the luggage salesman probably isn't a drone but someone like an angel who facilitates Joe's passage from this low and fallen world to a higher sphere. Indeed, the scenes of Joe's life on State Island are gritty, dark and evoke Hell. But once Joe abtains his luggage, he sleeps in a hotel--alone--but in the middle of a bed in expuisite pajamas and sheets with his arms set like in a casket., a death-like albeit peaceful pose The next scene he is in the air in a sleek airplane. Is this like dying and being raised form the fallen world to the skies and ultimately. LA, which is beautiful and glorious to him, is better than Staten Island, but still fake, as typified by the vapid Angelica. (Why did yshe get the "angel" name?) It's definitely a higher existence by any measure. Joe survived the temptation test of Angelica as siren and qualified to move on to V and the yacht. And finally, their third dimension--after surviving the ocean and jumping into the volcano--seems to be an afterworld of peace and no worries. Note that they have both sacrificed themselves unselfishly for the Waponis' salvation and sealed their union as a married couple as well.

The lightning symbol leads to his quasi death. It appears again to destroy the yacht, imperiling his life. And finally it appears on the volcano, which is again leading to his death. But he survives all three manifestations of the lightning.

Interestingly, the contents of the luggage seem hopelessly useless, like his Jungle Jim hat. But the golf game, the violin case, the lanterns, which all seemed so extraneous, all play a role in his and Patricia's survival.

The one scene I have often tried to figure out is the luggage store front, I think it is, where there are two women on each corner of the building standing with two large dogs. They symbolize something, but I don't know what.

Thanks again for all the great insights. Best,

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see that Christians see this as a Christian story, and Buddhists see it as Buddhist.