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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)

The first time I saw this movie was on the bus for our AP English class' trip to an area classical theater (my first exposure to that theater and the beginning of a long, painful/rewarding/devastating/life saving relationship with that place - see Spirited Away's entry...). I was so annoyed with my teacher, whom I usually worshipped. Why was he making us watch this stupid movie I'd only heard of in passing as a punchline? We could watch anything on the bus or I could pass the time making out with my boyfriend. Oh 17 year old Shannon. But, as I'm sure you can guess, the movie was anything but stupid and when I fell in love on that bus, it's lasted a lot longer than the relationship with my high school sweetheart.

I have a Joe Versus the Volcano tattoo. It badly needs to be touched up. It's the moon and the lightning motif that appears through the movie. The tattoo was conceived with the line "I saw the moon when we where out there on the ocean. Shining down on everything. I've been miserable for so long. Years of my life wasted. Been a long time comin' here to meet you. A long time, on a crooked road" in mind.

I can honestly say that one of the things that made me fall for Ben initially was finding out that he loves this movie too. So few people have heard of it, let alone seen it, let alone LOVED it and it's so important to me, well I swooned a little.

When we moved in together, I made him a replica of Joe's lamp which honestly I want to redo now that I can paint worth a damn.

I don't know that I have the full capacity (or desire) to analyze this movie. Mostly I just want other people to watch it. I think it's such a poignant exploration of expectation and disappointment in adulthood. A difficult look at courage and the ways we let ourselves down. Ben asked me, during this viewing, which Meg Ryan is my favorite in the film. I was tempted to say Patricia because she resonates so strongly with me. Her speech about being soul sick plays on repeat in my mind when I'm dealing with a depressive episode. Simultaneously apologizing for my broken state and begging to be seen. My hope for myself is that I can be one of the only people in the world who is truly awake and living in a state of constant amazement. But Patricia is also hard to love for those same reasons. Angelica, the flibbertigibbet, cracks me up but she might be even more heartbreaking. Ben answered Dede but added that he feels worst for her because she's stuck in the world that she and Joe start in. It's kind of marvelous that all those women exist in this world and are simultaneously lovable, pitiable, and mostly relateable. There's probably something to that.

John Patrick Shanley is one of my favorite living writers, mostly because of this film, which he also directed. Regrettably he's also, like so many prominent white men, problematic, and that bums me out. I love the whimsical, melancholy worlds he builds. The longing. The sense knowing exactly who you are but struggling to make that make sense in an indifferent, monochromatic world. I've often thought that Joe ought to be a stage play. The movie is incredibly theatrical. I have a beat up notebook that was my attempt at adapting it but time and bald faced shame that I'd try to adapt a playwright's screenplay to the stage have long kept it in a drawer. I should revisit that.

I can't remember if I wrote about this when I covered Moonstruck and frankly I'm too tired to go check but my biggest problem with that movie is that it isn't bigger and weirder. Shanley's stuff just craves BIG moments and the BIG visuals of Joe fit so well with the storybook storytelling and I always want the rest of his writing to be kicked up like that. Maybe the Outside Mullingar movie (I literally cannot remember its name and cannot be arsed to look it up) would have been better if it had been more ridiculous. It feels, to a modern mind, like the whole movie is ham fisted with its dialed to 11 color schemes and repeated visual motifs but I love the chances that it took with those and I love that it embraces a sort of grand tradition of the fable. I'm not articulating this well at all and mostly I just want to watch it again.

The cast of side characters do so much to make the movie so great. Ozzie Davis as Marshall. The silent coworker cheering (silently) for better coffee. Nathan Lane as whatever he is. Abe Vigoda as the Tobi. The Suitcase Salesman (whom I am convinced is actually a minor deity and HE and his "may you live to be a thousand years old, sir" line is why Joe is thrown from the volcano). Carol "SHAZAM" Kane. I want whatever Lloyd Bridges is on in this film (unless it's, like, cocaine, which it probably is and then I'll pass, thanks). And of course, Tom Hanks. I miss young, mid-tier PG movie Tom Hanks. Those were some sweet years of gentle, shouty, good humored entertainment. Thank god for DVDs.

"You're Coming Into Focus, Kid"



-Hoh boy. I was chugging along on this. Did the grayscale versions. Loved them. Did the monochrome. Loved them. Thought "the full color will be so easy!" Wrong. Just all came crashing down. Not that it's bad. It's not. And golly have I come a loooong way. But as ever, I wanted to have come farther. Which is silly but true and very very human.

-It does however give me confidence to do the thing I really wanted to do for this one that I absolutely did not have the time for this week. When I thought of it on Monday I thought, WOW! That'll be awesome! Can I actually do it? (yes!) Do I have the time? (no!!) So, stay tuned.

-I'd hoped I'd want to hang this one up in our house. Probably not. Ah well.

-Not much else to say. Yay growth! Boo perfectionism. Hooray for finishing before this weekend so I can do nothing but enjoy myself, my company, and relax.

Next week: Ghostbusters II! I have no witty remark about that except for VIGO!

I hope you have a wonderful week full of delight and media that feels like it was made just for you. I hope you manifest adorable creatures to see as you drive to work. I hope you smile for no reason at all.

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