If you've read some of the other reviews you'll know right off that "Joe vs the Volcano" is not easy to classify. To some, like me, it has profound depths, and speaks of life as a human being on a level few (if any) movies can achieve. To others it has no quality at all and is a waste of time to see.
I have to say, though, that I've never met or heard of anyone who 'gets' Joe (i.e. knows what it's about, sees the symbolic nature of the people and events, knows it is talking about the deep issues of life) and hates it. All those whom I've met who don't like it also don't get it. They think it's a comedy, a love story, a 'light-hearted' film; all the things it's not. 'Joe' is everything that Ingmar Bergman ever wanted to say, but failed to say because he didn't know how to.
JVTV is about, to quote Joe, courage. The courage to face life, to face down the fear that prevents you from being the person you know in your heart you are. It's about facing life with what life requires to be happy and fulfilled.
When Joe was young he had the courage he needed. He was a firefighter. He ran into fires to rescue children and save people from the most painful death. Then he lost his courage and got a job selling "rectal probes". He always felt sick, seeing doctor after doctor until one told him the bad news: he was dying.
Joe accepted the diagnosis, and this set him free from his fear. The worst had happened, nothing more to be scared of. He's going to die soon. His last task is to live well for the short time that remains. He is offered a few days of unlimited wealth and freedom if he agrees to leap into a volcano afterwards in order to help a businessman clinch a contract with superstitious natives. Joe accepts.
Through a series of mishaps, Joe discovers what life is and what it requires. One memorable scene is when he is cast adrift on a raft, and, almost dead from exposure, watches a glorious Moon rise over the ocean. He's says, "Thank you God, I've forgotten how BIG...." when he collapses.
When, finally he is standing on the lip of the volcano, ready to leap, the woman he has fallen in love with says:
"Joe, nobody knows anything. We'll take this leap and we'll see. We'll jump and we'll see. That's life."
This is the message of the movie. Nobody knows the future. Nobody knows what will happen. There is always risk. The only thing we can do is have courage, and leap. Those who don't leap are forever on the sidelines, watching those who have chosen to live. In essence, the message of Joe is: To leap is to live.
I haven't spoiled the movie. There are many many parts that contribute and support the message. At one point Joe says, "I've come a long way on a crooked road to find you." The "crooked road" is a lighting-bolt like symbol that occurs frequently in the film. Watching for it is fun. Why are there ducks everywhere? Why is Joe always losing his hat? Why is Meg Ryan playing 3 characters (hint Joe is always telling the new Meg Ryan character: "I think I've seen you before."). Why doesn't Joe sleep? Why is Patricia 'soul sick'?
There are so many things happening on so many levels it's hard to keep up.
This is a movie for people who want to participate in the art experience. That's the difference between art and entertainment. Art requires the audience to think, to see, to participate. Entertainment just need someone to watch and react: "laugh at this, laught at that."
Joe vs the Volcano is for the elite of movie watchers. Sorry, but it's true.