By Adam Baker
I've been thinking about Joe vs. The Volcano and here's my take on what the movie is about. (You'll never see this movie in the same way again):
In a nutshell, it's a basic tale of good versus evil. It's about the devil trying to get people to sell their souls. Here's the basic symbols and what they stand for:
The lightening bolt - a sign for the devil
The duck - the devil himself
The volcano - hell. The inferno.
The moon - a common symbol for heaven
The stars - again a symbol for heaven
The fish - a symbol of fecundity; fertility, fruitfulness.
The ocean - the source. The womb of the earth. A new beginning. Where all life originates.
The basic storyline:
Joe, and many of the people around him have lost their souls. Doing their time on the job, trudging through life anesthetised to the meaning of life. Losing touch with themselves and what they believe in. Joe is a hypochondriac - a person who is intensely focused on himself rather than the people around him.
One of Joe's first actions after being diagnosed with the brain cloud is to ask the woman in his office out on a date. But at the end of the evening, Joe is left alone because she can't 'handle it' that Joe is going to die. She's being selfish.
The devil (the businessman with the duckhead cane) sees Joe, the wayward soul, as easy prey and sets him up. The proposal is simple: Live the good life (acquiring material goods, the best clothes, cars, hotels, restaurants - the things that many of us have bought into as the important things in life) and in return you jump in the volcano (go to hell). Joe agrees, thinking that this is a pretty good deal since he's going to die anyway - he seems to have bought into the materialism of our society.
He rents a limo and chaffeur to help him with his shopping spree. The limo is white ( a symbol of goodness) and the chaffeur is a guardian angel. The chaffeur spends the day with Joe helping him purchase many items which later save his life when their ship sinks (the four trunks, the violin case bar with seltzer water etc...). That's what guardian angels do...make sure that their people are safe. At the end of the day, the guardian angel returns to his family (again, a symbol of wholesomeness and virtuousness). Joe is left alone - no friends or family.
Joe flies to Los Angeles where he is met by the devil's first daughter. She has red hair, and drives a red sports car (red is a symbol for temptations of the flesh). Her job is to tempt Joe to sin (sleep with her) but he turns down the invitation. This daughter is miserable because she can't escape the devil (her father). She wants to leave LA but can't give up all that LA stands for (trendy retaurants, expensive cars, self-centered ego maniacs). She has sold her soul to the devil and can't escape.
Joe meets the second daughter of the devil with whom he sails across the Pacific. She adamantly denies working for her father (the devil) but is upset because she too has struck a deal with the devil (deliver Joe to hell (the volcano) and she gets to keep the boat.) Her goal in life is to get as far away as possible from -the things of man- (i.e. materialism, greed etc...)
The devil's plans go awry when Joe and Patricia start falling in love. They become enamored with the stars (heaven) and with one another - they are beginning to think about one another rather than about themselves. They fish. Patricia catches several fish (a sign of fertility). Joe catches a hammerhead shark (the devil is unhappy that they are falling for one another) The devil's response is to whip up a terrible storm (the clouds and lightening (devil) obscures the stars (heaven)). When Joe and Patricia kiss on deck during the storm, the devil reacts by knocking Patricia in the head with the boom and pushing her overboard. Joe, who is beginning to find his soul (loving others, not just oneself) jumps overboard to save her. The devil who is furious that he is losing his daughter's soul makes the ship break apart and sink.
At this point the guardian angel comes into play. Up pop the trunks, complete with umbrellas, water, golf clubs etc... Joe sacrifices his own well being by giving all the water to Patricia. The heavens (the moon) are shining down upon them - as they are reclaiming their souls.)
Next thing you know, they wash up on the island which has been their destination. The Waponis represent many native cultures which have lost their souls by becoming westernized. This group has no identity - they have a Jewish, Celtic....etc background and have lost an appreciation for their own heritage. The orange soda is an absurd symbol of western civilization. These natives have become so westernized that they even need a western hero (Joe) to jump into the volcano because none of them is willing to sacrifice themselves (are you picking up on the selfishness theme here?) to save their tribe.
Joe and Patricia are married just moments before jumping into the volcano - affirming their commitment to one another. Patricia recites a line 'Whither thou goest, I will go'. They join hands and leap together, symbolizing their willingness to sacrifice themselves for one another. It is at this moment that they find their souls and the meaning of life. It is to give yourself to others.
Well, the devil can't admit them to hell if they haven't lost their souls, so they are spit out of the volcano and out into the water (symbolic of birth or rebirth). The guardian angel is still watching, and the trunks once again reappear. They lash them together and float off toward the moon (heaven).
In the meantime, the Waponis, who have clearly lost their collective souls, all go to hell as the volcano erupts and consumes the island.
The moral of the story is NOT to live for the moment nor is it to live each day as if it were your last. The moral of the story IS to live life consciously. To look outside yourself and love and serve others. This is the path of enlightenment and soulfulness.
Great movie!

Saturday, March 28, 1998