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21 Life Lessons From Joe Versus the Volcano

Student of life, lifelong learner, mother, writer, artist, poet, dancer, musician, and martial artist ... passionate about all of these.


If you’ve ever had a terrible job and wondered why you didn’t just chuck it, you’ll understand the opening scenes of Joe Versus the Volcano. If you’ve ever asked yourself about the meaning of life and your role in the big picture, you’ll identify with the main character in this film. And if you enjoy unusual stories about individuals who take a journey and are tested along the way, you’ll be keenly interested in this adult fairy tale.


Joe versus the volcano synopsis

Never too old. Never too bad. Never too late. Never too sick to start from scratch once again.” Bikram Choudhury

In Joe Versus the Volcano, Tom Hanks plays Joe Banks, a man who hates his job, thinks the overhead fluorescent lights are making him sick, and quakes at the presence of his boorish boss Frank Watori (Dan Hedaya). He is attracted to the office secretary DeDe (Meg Ryan) but is afraid to speak to her. Then his life changes when he visits Dr. Ellison (Robert Stack). Dr. Ellison tells Joe that he has something called "a brain cloud" that is rapidly spreading throughout his brain. He will feel great, but he'll be dead within five months. Instead of being depressed at this bleak prognosis, Joe suddenly feels free. He quits his job, asks DeDe out, and is contacted by a rich millionaire named Graynamore (Lloyd Bridges). Graynamore owns an island named Waponi Woo, whose natives need to be placated. The natives require a sacrifice to their island volcano, the Big Woo, so that the island won't sink beneath the Pacific. Graynamore offers unlimited wealth to Tom in exchange for Tom's becoming the object of human sacrifice. Joe has nothing to lose, so he accepts the offer. As he heads out to the island, Joe meets Graynamore's daughters -- Angelica, a Los Angeles socialite, and Patricia, Angelica's blonde half-sister (both roles played by Ryan). Joe arrives at the island, and as he stands at the lips of the Big Woo he has to decide whether he really wants to leap into the mouth of the fiery volcano.

1. “If you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” Tony Robbins

“You must be willing to let go of the life you have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for you.”

So many of us live in the same old way, going through the same routine every day, in the same drab, zombie-like state, wearing the same drab outfits, with no meaning in our lives. We tend to live in a sort of limbo, barely aware of the awfulness of the situation. We get caught up in the misery of our existence, trading our souls for a meaningless life, oblivious to anything else going on around, and tend to miss the beauty that surrounds us. “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Andre Gide

2. Find your life-giving elixir!

Be a hero. If you feel there is something lacking in the normal experience available to you or to the members of your community, head out and find that life-giving elixir.

3. Stop playing it safe!

"As depression makes us lose interest or pleasure in ordinary activities, our range of activities constricts. We stop taking chances, we avoid stimulation, we play it safe." Richard O'Connor, PhD, in Undoing Depression.

Don't lose your soul!

4. Don't lose your "sole!"

Throughout the moment Joe encounters several lost souls like himself. It seems to be a movie about lost souls trying to recover what is left of their miserable existence, and to end it with some semblance of dignity, and to live out the rest of their lives with exuberance. And where does Joe’s path go? The volcano, of course, which is, in terms of the fairy tale, Hell. That is Joe’s destiny for, even as he described it back at the factory, he his losing his soul, further represented by him actually losing the soul of a shoe.

5. Know who you are, and where you want to go!

Know who you are, and where you want to go. The story is told of a group of little kids in a town in Africa, in Sierra Leone, who were playing a game of marbles, when a group of explorers came upon them. The explorers asked if they would exchange the marbles for some candy, which the kids found appealing. They did. The next day the explorers came back and again an exchange was made. It turns out that the kids were playing with diamonds, and the explorers realized this. The kids did not know what they had in their hands due to ignorance. We sometimes need someone who can see the gift in us and encourage it, not take it from us.

6. Stop playing it safe!

Stop playing it safe. Quote: As depression makes us lose interest or pleasure in ordinary activities, our range of activities constrict. We avoid stimulation and play it safe. From Undoing Depression. “Someone was hurt before you, wronged before you, hungry before you, frightened before you, humiliated before you, tired before you, yet someone survived. You can do anything you choose to do.” Maya Angelou

We're captured in our own dragon cage. The ultimate dragon is within you. Let it show.

Stop living in a cage!

Let your light shine!


7. Don't be afraid to let your light shine!

Let your light shine. Everyone has a gift to share with the world. You may be a writer, an artist, a songwriter. Don’t keep the world from experiencing your gift. In the movie there is a scene where Joe takes out a lamp from his drawer. On it is a very tropical scene, a sigh of what's to come in journey. This lamp is also symbolic of the childlike nature in Joe that still exists. The message we should be taking from this is not to lose our childlike nature, but to use our light to brighten the corner of the world we find ourselves in.

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8. We need to confront our own mortality!

You have a brain cloud,” says Dr. Ellison to Joe Banks.

Joe is an unaffected individual, although the prognosis causes him to wrinkle his brow: “Brain cloud?”

The Dr. continues: “There’s a black fog of tissue running right down the center of your brain. It’s very rare. It’ll spread at a regular rate. It’s very destructive… Your brain will simply fail, followed abruptly by your body.”

Joe exits the office with a grim expression. He realizes his life — hitherto an intolerably boring one — is limited, and faces the immense pressure of fashioning an enjoyable epilogue.

We need to confront our own mortality. What is your Brain Cloud? In the movie Joe is basically tricked into living by being given a bogus diagnosis. He is told he has a Brain Cloud, and has only months left to live. He fell for it, and it is this that will change his life. What disease or dis-ease is there in your body that should propel you forward to living your life? Will it take a diagnosis to get you to realize that you have not yet lived your life, and that the time you have left is limited?

What would you do if money was no option?


9. What would you do if money was no option?

Who is the Trickster in your life? What would you do if money was no option? In the movie Joe is given all the money he could possibly use in the time he has left to do whatever he wanted t do with it.

"Tricksters serve several important psychological functions. They bring about healthy change and transformation, often by drawing attention to the imbalance or absurdity of a stagnant psychological situation." Christopher Vogler, The Writer's Journey

Stop being afraid!


10. Stop being afraid!

Stop being afraid! We’re afraid of change. We’re afraid to lose. We’re afraid to fail. Instead of changing our circumstances we often spend time worrying and wondering if it’s the right thing to do, and start filling our minds with self-doubt. What if I fail? We stay in miserable jobs, abusive relationships, keep friends that we have long outgrown, We’re afraid to change cities, to change jobs, to change relationships (even when we know they are not working). Sometimes we need to close some doors, not because of pride, incapacity or ignorance, but simply because they no longer lead somewhere. “Your life does not get better by chance. It gets better by change.

It’s normal to be afraid of change but we shouldn’t let it keep you stuck in a place that you know is not good for you. “Fear, uncertainty and discomfort are your compasses toward growth.” Unknown

…and if that venture does not work out as you hoped, you will be smarter than before and more grateful for the experience and the lessons learned.

11. You have some time left. Live it well!

You have some time left. Live it well. If you had only 6 months to live what would you differently? Would you still be that relationship? Would you still be at the same job? What would you choose to spend your time on? For all you know you might only have 3 months, or you could be dead tomorrow. Shouldn’t you spend the time doing the things you love to do, spending it with people you love, and NOT those who abuse you or tear you down? “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein.

12. We all have volcanoes! Deal with it!

We all have some volcano, some dilemma we have to face and deal with. Deal with it. We encounter challenges every day, and we can either run from them or face them head on. These challenges could be a relationship that is not working, drug addiction or other addiction, …”In a chronically leaking boat energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.” Warren Buffet We have the power within us to deal with them, and it will come at the right time.

Face your volcanoes!


Stop selling your life for $300 per week!

13. Only when we are going to die do we realize how much we want to live!

Somewhere in all of this is a lesson about depression, hope and the need to be skeptical of any test results that sound like weather reports.

It is only when we are told that we are going to die that we realize how much we want to live. Do we really need to get a death sentence for life to take on a brand new meaning, for us to realize how precious our one life realize, and why we should not be selling it off to someone else?


Don't "sell your soul to the company store."

14. Stop pretending everything is alright!

We become Great Pretenders. We act as if everything is great, that we have our life all together, when deep down we are tired of our hum-drum existence.

Live in a state of constant amazement!

15. Stop passing by all the beauty around you!

Stop passing by the beauty that is all around you. We need to stop and smell the roses.

Stop passing by all the beauty around you!

Daisy in the movie that no one sees, until someone steps on it!

Daisy in the movie that no one sees, until someone steps on it!

Take the leap!


16. Take a chance! Take the leap!

Take a leap. Take the chance! And believe that everything will be alright.

Do one thing that scares you everyday.

The purpose of life is to live it.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.

Do one thing that scares you everyday!


There are some doors you have to go through alone!

17. Loss is inevitable!

Loss is inevitable. Joe tells Dee Dee about his illness and she is not ready to deal with his impending death. She leaves him forever. How many of us have suffered loss like this as a result of something that happened? Illness sometimes make us very lonely. We lose friends and other relationships as a result. Sometimes there are certain doors that you have to go through alone. “All great changes are preceded by chaos.” Deepak Chopra

18. Give your life away!

Give your life away. What you give is what you get. We all give our lives away. The question is, “what are we giving it away to or for?” We invest our lives on television, on video games, making oney, gaining power, and fame. God designed you to be happiest when you are giving your life away, but not just to give it away as life-negaters or joyless souls, but as those who care about life enough to seek it through self-denial and find joy through trial. Volunteer at a nursing home. Visit the sick kids in the pediatric ward at the hospital. (Mark 8:35) Happiness comes from self-sacrifice, service and generosity. Think about what makes you happiest in life. How much of your time is spent on service?


19. Where there is life, there is hope!

Where there is life, there is hope.

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” Unknown

"Incredible things happen in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t." Steve Maraboli in Life, Truth and Being Free.

Where there is life, there is hope!


Take the leap!

20. You're still here!

You’re still here. Have a "Yes, I can!" attitude with a "Yes, I can!" aptitude

21. Stay hungry!

Stay hungry. When people see how fired up you are, they will want to join you.

When people see how fired up you are, they will want to take the leap with you!


You've got to be hungry!

Have you seen "Joe Versus the Volcano?"

Buy Joe Versus The Volcano here:

Live your life! Your miracle is coming!

"If you don't hurry up and let life know what you want, life will damned soon show you what you'll get." Robertson Davies, Fifth Business

The Volcano is the final obstacle in Joe's journey. It's funny that in the movie it represents both the reason his new life starts and also his impending death. In the end Joe has his confrontation with the Volcano. I agree with Joe when he said, "Courage interests me". The Volcano, then, to me symbolizes that obstacle that we must face. The thing that may terrify us, until finally we can overcome it, and own it, because when we face our challenge and finally win, it is ours.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2015 Gina Welds


Gina Welds (author) from Tampa, Florida on November 11, 2015:

I love the movie. There are a couple elements that I did not address, that need their own article.

Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on November 11, 2015:

This is an old one but a good one. I will have to watch the movie again.

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