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Film: Joe Versus The Volcano

A 1990 Romantic Comedy staring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (the first of three films they've done together). Hanks plays Joe Banks, a miserable everyman in a dead-end job with a Bad Boss. To make matters worse, Joe is diagnosed with a mysterious "brain cloud" that will kill him in six months. Enter an Eccentric Millionaire, who is trying to acquire the rights to a rare mineral on a South Pacific island. The natives will only give him the mineral rights if he finds a hero to Appease the Volcano God for them. The millionaire hires Joe, who agrees to jump into the volcano at the end of a month of living it up on an all-expense-paid voyage. Hilarity Ensues.

This film provides examples of:

  • Acting For Three: Meg Ryan plays three different characters.
  • Almighty Janitor: More like "wise" than "almighty". The chauffer that Joe hires gives him some pretty good advice and sets him on the right track.
  • Anticlimax: At Joe's work, there is a large pipe with a massive wheel that has a sign that says "Do Not Close Valve" Joe decides to turn it after he finds out he's dying. Nothing happens, much to his disappointment.
  • Appease the Volcano God: The volcano god rejects Joe and Patricia and sinks the island.
  • Arc Motif: The mysterious giant zig-zag symbol. It pops up throughout the film.
    • For instance, on the giant logo of the Steam And Flame Factory, on the sidewalk outside, on the trail up the side of the volcano, on the lightning that destroys the boat... Is it a volcano or a lightning bolt?
      • It's quite explicit in the film. It's the "crooked road" that Joe's been walking all his life.
  • Arc Words: Losing your soul. Foreshadowed by Joe losing his sole (of his shoe).
  • Author Appeal: Watch Moonstruck and this film and note the similarities.
  • Bad Boss: Mr. Waturi.
    "Do you think I feel good? Nobody feels good. After childhood, it's a fact of life. I feel rotten. So what?"
  • Big Damn Hero: Graynamore points to Joe that he was once one when he was a firefighter.
  • Brain Fever: Joe's terminal "brain cloud".
  • Broken Record:
    Mr. Waturi: I know he can get the job. But can he do the job? Harry. Yeah, Harry. But can he do the job? I know he can get the job. But can he do the job? I'm not arguing that with you. I'm not arguing that with you. I'm not arguing that with you. I'm not arguing that with you' Harry! Harry, Harry. Yeah, Harry, but can he do the job? I know he can get the job. But can he do the job? I'm not arguing that with you. Harry, I am not arguing that with you! Who said that? I didn't say that. If I said that, I would have been wrong. Maybe. Maybe. I'm not arguing that with you! Yeah, Harry, I know he can get the job. But can he do the job? I'm not arguing that with you! I am not arguing that with you! I am not arguing that with you! Who told you that? No! I told you that! Me! What? Maybe. Maybe, maybe. Maybe!
  • Character Title
  • Chekhov's Gun: The luggage. Let's just say it's a good that that it's watertight.
    Joe: No matter where we go, no matter what we do, we're taking this luggage with us!
  • Chekhov's Volcano
  • Chew Toy: Joe thinks he's the universe's.
  • Complaining about Complaining: See Broken Record.
  • Convenient Terminal Illness: Joe's poor prognosis drives the entire plot.
  • Cool Old Guy: The tribe chieftain, much like every character played by Abe Vigoda.
  • Crapsack World: Joe's workplace, which we get a tour of to the tune of the mining song "16 Tons".
  • Dream Sequence: More of a sun-induced fever dream, but still...
  • Eccentric Millionaire: Graynamore, who's not as kind as he seems, making a perfectly healthy man commit suicide by making him think he has a fatal disease.
  • Epiphanic Prison: Joe.
    Patricia: My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.
  • Everyman: Literally, a guy named Joe.
  • Face Palm: The Waponi Chief gives one reacting to his klutzy gong ringers.
  • Famous Last Words:
    Joe: I want you to listen, Patricia, because these are my last words: I gotta be brave. I gotta jump in.
    • Patricia says she has last words too when she decides to jump with him, but she can't think of anything to say.
  • Fridge Logic:invoked A rare In Universe example, invoked by Patricia at the end of the film. It also qualifies as a Crowning Moment of Funny.
    Joe: I have... a brain cloud. (dramatic musical strike)
    Patricia: A brain cloud... what is a brain cloud?
    Joe: Well, it's a ... (beat) ... well, maybe I should have gotten a second opinion.
    Patricia: You mean you were diagnosed with something called a brain cloud and didn't ask for a second opinion?! What are you, a hypochondriac or something?
  • Foreshadowing: Joe packs three books when he leaves his job: Robinson Crusoe, Romeo and Juliet, and The Odyssey.
    • Joe's Hula girl lamp as well, which has a Polynesian volcano with the same crooked road lava flow.
  • Happily Ever After: Played straight.
  • Important Haircut: Joe gets one. Lampshaded by Cassie and Marshall: "You're coming into focus, kid."
  • Induced Hypochondria
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The Waponis. It's strongly implied that since none of the natives were brave enough to pick from one of their own, the Volcano God rejected the replacements and destroyed the island instead.
  • Like You Were Dying
  • MacGuffin: The rare mineral Boobaroo.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Both the second and third incarnations of Meg Ryan are this.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Ellison clearly does not deserve his degree, but you don't find that out until the final scene.
  • Nautical Knockout: This happens to Patricia during a storm, knocking her out. Joe jumps in to save her, hero that he is.
  • Nice Hat: Joe's "Jungle Jim" outfit.
  • No Ending: Lampshaded by Joe that he and Patricia are in the middle of nowhere. Patricia Hand Waves this and just smiles, "It's always gonna be something with you, isn't it?"
    • Actually, if you watch the full end credits, the final scene shows them rescued by a boat in a background picture format. There's more hope for a happy ending for the two of them than it seems.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Joe's workplace, which looks like something out of the game Fallout and is entirely lit with flickering fluorescent bulbs. He enters it to the tune of "16 Tons", a coal-miner's union song.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Joe's Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
    Joe: You look terrible, Mr. Waturi. You look like a bag of shit stuffed in a cheap suit. Not that anyone could look good under these zombie lights. I, I, I, I can feel them sucking the juice out of my eyeball. Suck, suck, suck, SUCK... (makes a sucking noise) For 300 bucks a week, that's the news. For 300 bucks a week, I've lived in this sink, this used rubber.
    Mr. Waturi: You watch it, mister! There's a woman here!
    Joe: Don't you think I know that, Frank? Don't you think I am aware there is a woman here? I can smell her, like, like a flower. I can taste her, like sugar on my tongue. When I'm 20 feet away I can hear the fabric of her dress when she moves in her chair. Not that I've done anything about it. I've gone all day, every day, not doing, not saying, not taking the chance for 300 bucks a week, and Frank, the coffee stinks, it's like arsenic. The lights give me a headache. If the lights don't give you a headache, you must be dead; let's arrange the funeral.
    Mr. Waturi: You better get outta here right now! I'm telling you!
    Joe: You're telling me nothing. And why, I ask myself, why have I put up with you? I can't imagine, but now I know. Fear. Yellow freakin' fear. I've been too chicken shit afraid to live my life so I sold it to you for 300 freakin' dollars a week! You're lucky I don't kill you! You're lucky I don't rip your freakin' throat out! But I'm not going to! And maybe you're not so lucky at that. 'Cause I'm gonna leave you here, Mr. Wahoo Waturi, and what could be worse than that?
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Shopping Montage: Joe's spending spree in Manhattan, with plenty of Product Placement for stores like Hammacher Schlemmer. A rare male example.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: The Waponis are known for their love of orange soda. (And use the cans to decorate their clothing like ornaments.)
  • Unobtainium: Boobaroo, the rare mineral that is a tremendous superconductor.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Graynamore and his doctor tricked Joe into thinking he was dying to get him to jump in a volcano to win some Unobtainium.
  • Versus Title
  • Weird Moon: A giant moon silhouettes Joe as he's floating around on his luggage raft. Justified, as Joe is hallucinating from the effects of exposure and dehydration.
  • You Look Familiar: Meg Ryan plays three roles. Lampshaded: "Did I ever tell you that the first time I saw you, I felt I'd seen you before?"
    • Fridge Brilliance: Joe mentions how he keeps meeting the same people in his life.
    • The filmmakers said this was to symbolize (paraphrased) how the same woman can seem completely and totally different depending on when in your life you meet her. When Joe meets the first woman played by Meg Ryan, she's someone he's dreamed about but upon actually getting her, finds she's shallow and fearful... like his adult life has been for the last few years. The second woman is flighty and obsessed with the material and ultimately empty... Joe's transition between his old life and new way of living, where he accumulates numerous possessions but is still alone and acutely aware that he is. The third is both outspoken and independent, but still not sure of her lot in life and frustrated with the connections that drag her down... this is how Joe feels as he begins to come to terms with the end of his life but still finds himself clinging to it. It's this woman that Joe spends the most time with and connects with, and so they grow together into a complete whole.
  • Your Days Are Numbered


Jacob's LadderFilms of the 1990sKindergarten Cop

alternative title(s): Joe Versus The Volcano
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