Joe Versus the Volcano

Joe Versus the Volcano

Infobox Film
name = Joe Versus the Volcano

caption = Joe Versus The Volcano Poster
director = John Patrick Shanley
writer = John Patrick Shanley
starring = Tom Hanks
Meg Ryan
Lloyd Bridges
Robert Stack
Dan Hedaya
Abe Vigoda
Ossie Davis
music = Georges Delerue
editing = Richard Halsey
Kenneth Wannberg
cinematography = Stephen Goldblatt
producer = Teri Schwartz
distributor = Warner Bros.
released = March 9, 1990 (USA)
country = USA
budget = Unknown
gross = $39,404,261 (USA)
runtime = 102 min.
language = English
amg_id = 1:26312
imdb_id = 0099892

"Joe Versus the Volcano" is a 1990 comedy film starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

The first film directed by screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, it was also the first of three films pairing Hanks and Ryan. Despite positive reviews from noted critics like Roger Ebert, "Joe Versus the Volcano" was considered a box office flop, and one of Hanks' minor films. Since then, it has attracted a cult following. [ [ Joe Versus the Volcano ] Personal Web site at]


Joe Banks (Hanks) is a downtrodden everyman, working in a factory for a sour, argumentative boss, Frank Waturi (Dan Hedaya). Banks is chronically unwell and listless, regularly visiting doctors, who find nothing physically wrong with him, and finds no joy in his existence. One day, he visits Dr. Ellison (Robert Stack), who diagnoses a fatal and incurable condition known as a "brain cloud". Ironically, the illness is not responsible for Joe's fatigue or symptoms; these were psychosomatic, caused by frightening experiences in his previous career as a fireman. The brain cloud has no symptoms, apart from quickly and painlessly killing him in about six months. Dr. Ellison suggests, "You have some time left, Mr. Banks. You have some life left. My advice to you is, live it well." Joe promptly quits his job, tells his boss off, and asks former co-worker DeDe (Ryan, in the first of three roles) out on a date. It goes well, but when he tells her he's dying, she becomes upset and leaves.

The next day, Joe is visited by wealthy industrialist Samuel Graynamore (Lloyd Bridges), who has a proposition for him. The tiny Pacific island called Waponi Woo is rich in deposits of a mineral called "bubaru" [Alternate spelling may be "boobaroo". ] that Graynamore needs to manufacture superconductors. The inhabitants of the island, known as the Waponis, will let him mine the mineral, provided he can solve a problem for them. They believe that the volcano on their island must be appeased by a voluntary human sacrifice once every century, but none of the Waponis is willing to volunteer this time around. If Graynamore can provide a willing victim, he can have the mineral. Graynamore offers Joe the opportunity to "live like a king, die like a man." He further offers Joe credit cards to pay for whatever he wants, as long as he jumps into the volcano at the end. With nothing to lose, Joe agrees.

Joe spends a day and a night on the town in New York, where he solicits advice on style and life from wise chauffeur Marshall (Ossie Davis). Joe purchases an Armani tuxedo; for his valued assistance, Marshall also gets a tuxedo. Joe also buys four top-of-the-line, handcrafted, waterproof steamer trunks from a fanatically dedicated luggage salesman (Barry McGovern).

Joe then flies to Los Angeles, where he is met by one of Graynamore's daughters, Angelica (also played by Ryan), a shallow socialite who cautions him not to tell her anything, as she cannot keep a secret ("Daddy says I'm a flibbertigibbet!"). The next morning, Angelica takes Joe to a yacht owned by her father. Among the crew is her half-sister, Patricia (Ryan again). She had reluctantly agreed to take Joe to Waponi Woo after Graynamore promised to give her the yacht in return.

After an awkward beginning, Joe and Patricia begin to bond. Then they run into a typhoon. Patricia is knocked unconscious and flung overboard, but Joe rescues her. Lightning strikes the yacht, sinking it. Fortunately, Joe is able to construct a raft by lashing together his steamer trunks. Patricia does not regain consciousness for several days. Joe rations the small supply of water for her, while he gradually becomes delirious from thirst. Joe experiences a revelation during his delirium and thanks God for his life. When Patricia finally awakens, she is deeply touched that Joe gave her all the water. They then find that they have fortuitously drifted to their destination, Waponi Woo.

The Waponis treat them to a grand feast. Their chief (Abe Vigoda) asks one last time if anyone else will volunteer, but there are no takers and Joe heads for the volcano. Patricia tries to stop him, declaring her love for him. He admits he loves her as well, "but the timing stinks." Patricia gets the chief to marry them, which he hastily does.

Afterwards, Patricia refuses to be separated from Joe. When he is unable to dissuade her, they jump in together, but the volcano chooses that moment to erupt and they are blown out into the ocean. The island sinks, but Joe and Patricia are rescued by their trusty steamer trunks again. At first ecstatic about their miraculous salvation, Joe puts a damper on things by telling Patricia about his fatal brain cloud. She recognizes the name of Joe's doctor as that of her father's crony and realizes that Joe has been lied to. He isn't dying and they can live happily ever after if they survive being adrift at sea on raft made of steamer trunks.


*Tom Hanks as Joe Banks
*Meg Ryan as DeDe / Angelica Graynamore / Patricia Graynamore
*Lloyd Bridges as Samuel Harvey Graynamore
*Robert Stack as Doctor Ellison
*Abe Vigoda as the Waponi chief
*Dan Hedaya as Frank Waturi
*Barry McGovern as the luggage salesman
*Ossie Davis as Marshall
*Amanda Plummer as Dagmar, a member of the yacht's crew
*Nathan Lane as Baw, Waponi Advance Man

Carol Kane (using the pseudonym "Lisa LeBlanc") and Nathan Lane made cameo appearances.


The original screenplay had a somewhat different ending with the doctor and the industrialist getting their comeuppance.

According to people close to Shanley at the time, the story is based on a near-death experience Shanley had and is his attempt to describe and explain the altered outlook on life he adopted as a result.Fact|date=July 2007

Shanley wrote two songs for the movie, "Marooned Without You" and "The Cowboy Song", the former used thematically throughout and the latter performed by Tom Hanks on the ukulele.


The soundtrack for "Joe Versus the Volcano" was released in very limited numbers as a promotional item. Only 3000 copies were manufactured.

Recurring themes

*Joe remarks to two of Meg Ryan's characters (DeDe and Patricia) that when he first saw them, he felt he had seen them somewhere before.
*A recurring image of a jagged thunderbolt plays a part in the movie. It is part of the company logo, it is the shape of the pathway leading up to Joe's workplace, it is seen in the plaster damage in Joe's apartment, in the lightning bolt that destroys Patricia's boat, and in the path to the volcano. This jagged pattern seems to relate to the thematic line, "Life is a crooked road" that Joe states late in the movie. Other recurring images include ducks, the façade of the factory, dogs, and the moon.
*When Joe is ready to shed one chapter of his life for another, he also sheds a hat — one in the office and one at the dock.
*The lampshade in Joe's office has a picture of the volcano. There is also a volcano painted on the side of a building early in the film.
*Dee Dee sees Joe looking at his shoe and asks him what's wrong. He says "I'm losing my sole." Later, Joe asks the chief of the Waponis about a doll the chief is holding. The chief says "It's my soul." Joe says "I hope you don't lose it" to which the chief replies, "So do I."


External links

*imdb title|id=0099892|title=Joe versus the Volcano
* [ "Joe versus the Volcano" fan site]

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