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Joe Versus the Volcano

Year: 1990
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: John Patrick Shanley
Writer: John Patrick Shanley
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd bridges, Robert Stack, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Ossie Davis

I remember some of the images from the climatic scenes from the trailer to this movie, and at the time I remember being slightly confused about whether to expect some Indiana Jones-like adventure or a romance. Either way the marketing didn't work and it didn't convince me to see it. I only did so years later after realising it was by John Patrick Shanley, whose work I loved in Doubt.

Had I seen it back when I was nineteen years old, in love with the Ninja Turtles movie and far less forgiving of esoteric films, I would have hated it. As it is I didn't really know what to make of it and think it missed whatever dreamlike state it was going for by simply being too grounded when it needed to be whimsical and vice versa.

Joe (Hanks) is a low level drone in a cartoonish conglomerate, slowly going mad from boredom until his doctor (Stack) tells him he's dying of a rare condition. Joe's visited by an industrialist (Bridges) soon after who offers him vast sums of money and prestige if he'll throw himself into a volcano in the south pacific in six months to appease the natives, whose land he wants to mine. He then proceeds to fall in love with the ship's captain (Ryan, who plays three roles) on the way and realises he wants to live, but none of that aspect of the story even surfaces until after an extended sequence with a limo driver (Davis) or the strange goings on at Joe's workplace.

Symbolic touches like the crooked path into the factory make it obvious it's a fairy tale, and other flourishes of symbolism like the tied-together chests that keep saving Joe's life are saying something, but it was either all too deep for me to understand or just not there at all.

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