The Goddess
Why does the JVTV script mention the physical similarity of Dede, Angelica, and Patricia? In the movie all three characters are played by Meg Ryan. Why? Obviously a thematic connection between the characters is intended.
I believe the three characters represent different aspects of the goddess--maiden, mother, and crone. Dede is the maiden, Angelica is the crone, and Patricia is the mother. (I'm just making a literary correlation here. If you are interested in the deeper significance, on the psychological level the goddess may be thought of as a personification of the soul or anima.) (See Joe.)
The mother aspect of the goddess represents the principles of fertility and nurturing. She usually is symbolized by the full moon. In Joe's prayer to the moon, he gives thanks for his life. This is an entirely appropriate prayer if he is addressing it to that aspect of the One represented by the goddess--the principle of fertility and life. (The moon has never been associated with the traditional (masculine) Judeo-Christian god. He is usually symbolized by the sun, and at this point in the movie the sun is about to kill Joe.)
When Joe finishes the prayer he collapses. Then a startling thing happens. The moon is replaced by Patricia hovering over Joe. Recall that on the nights before the moonrise there was no moon, and Patricia was comatose. (The moon was not there and neither was Patricia.) Then the moon miraculously appears, and Patricia miraculously appears, fresh as a daisy, and begins ministering to Joe.
I think the correlation between Patricia and the mother (full moon) is fairly clear from the above observations. But there is a little more evidence from other scenes. For example, in the scene at the dock Angelica accuses Patricia of being in a bad mood, and Patricia replies, 'It's the sunshine, it gets me down.' Indeed the sunshine does have the effect of 'putting out' the moon. In another scene Joe asks Patricia if she believes in god, and she replies, 'I believe in myself.' That's certainly the correct answer, assuming she represents the goddess.
Dede seems to be the maiden aspect of the goddess. The maiden is associated with beginnings. Her date with Joe represents the beginning of Joe's new life. The maiden also represents the approach of maturity, which Joe is experiencing. However, Joe is rapidly passing through this 'puberty' phase, and his association with the maiden is brief. In fact, if Joe is dying he would more properly be in the crone's jurisdiction rather than the maiden's.
Angelica is the crone. She is tired of life and has a death wish (the waning moon). Her occasional antisocial behavior makes her vaguely sinister (another characteristic of the crone), and she is the one who sends Joe off on his journey. (The crone is the goddess of initiation. She is the gateway to death and rebirth.)
Maybe I'm reading too much into the Meg Ryan characters, but this seems to offer some kind of explanation, and it is in accord with my belief that Joe is really making an inward journey of self-discovery, a search for the anima/soul which he had lost.
Volcano as Womb. Someone (not me) has remarked that the (grotesque) statue at the crater may be an image of a fertility goddess. Joe and Patricia pass between her legs to re-enter the womb--to be purified and transformed by fire and reborn to a new life. It's a familiar image from alchemy--the King (Sun) and Queen (Moon) being united and transformed by an alchemical process called the hieros gamos or mystical marriage--from which the psychologist C. G. Jung drew analogies to the process by which people attain self-realization (becoming 'whole' by uniting and transcending the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind).
In JVTV the volcano could be symbolic of the alchemical furnace in which the transformation takes place. This, via Jung, also ties in with the 'away from the things of man' motif. I quote from him: 'What, after all, has commonplace reality to offer, with its registry offices, pay envelopes, and monthly rent, that could outweigh the mystic awe of the hieros gamos?'
An interesting novel about the hieros gamos is 'The Chymical Wedding' by Lindsay Clarke, in which the fertility goddess image is a bas relief on the front of a building (a church, I believe), and the alchemical furnace is a kiln.
Could Shanley have been (at least partly) inspired by Jung to create this cinematic masterpiece? (I dunno, but I like to think so.)

Saturday, March 28, 1998