Note: spoilers will follow, mainly in the final section.
That’s right. We went to watch LEGO Movie. I am not ashamed of this. It was quite possibly my favourite movie in a few years. But to get past defending myself, here are some thoughts on the movie’s message:
Conformity and Diversity
The primary critique of the movie early on is against blind conformity. We meet the main character, Emmet, who is completely ordinary. He follows the rules that are passed down by Lord Business, the ruler of the land, down to the letter. He is a construction worker where there is no creativity allowed as they only follow the design. Actually, we discover that he is so normal that nobody really knows who he is and those who do don’t really like him. He just blends in as part of the system. That’s a powerful message to so many – especially kids and teenagers – who just want to be “normal.” There is no and never should be such a thing as normal.
Critiquing conformity is not the same thing as critiquing structure, though. By the end of the movie we actually see that there is plenty of room for those who want to play in a more structured way, which is good because that was and still is me. Part of the plan to defeat Lord Business even includes playing by the rules just enough to disguise themselves, forcing the free spirit Master Builders out of their comfort zones. But acknowledging my strengths and enjoyment of structure is not the same thing as forcing everybody else to conform to my (structured) vision of what the world should be. We need the Emmets. We need the brilliantly-portrayed Batman. We even need the Unikitty voiced by one of my favourite actresses, Alison Brie. And we need the unnamed hundreds or thousands of Lego characters, not Master Builder special characters, who eventually join in the uprising.
The media is a primary tool of controlling the masses, keeping everyone happy and never really questioning Lord Business and what he is doing with their city. I was highly amused when it kept referencing a TV show called “Where Are My Pants?” It was just a guy with no pants on asking his wife where his pants are, followed by a laugh track. It showed it three or four times and it was the exact same each time. Not that big of an exaggeration away from our own media.
And then there’s arguably the best part of the whole movie, this song that is now the ringtone on my otherwise-professional BlackBerry:
The context of the song is primarily about the media encouraging conformity. It’s a shot against a lot of music that predominate radio play by pretending that nothing is wrong. It’s a good way to keep everyone in check, not rising up against the genuine problems of their world.
At the same time, I kinda love it, and not just because it is insanely catchy. I know that not nearly everything is awesome. There’s a lot of brokenness in the world. I’m not denying that. But… if it wasn’t a blind optimism, I still love the idea of the song. Every human being is awesome in their own way. Nature is awesome. Many things about our societies are awesome. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t broken or that we shouldn’t acknowledge and wrestle with that brokenness. But our baseline is that we are all bearing God’s image and we are all infinitely loved. That’s pretty awesome.
The twist of the movie is that it suddenly turns live action. We see that Emmet and all of the others were part of a game played by a boy, probably about 10 years old. Unfortunately, his father, played very well by Will Ferrell, is Lord Business. He wants his entire LEGO set to be perfect. He’s built up everything in precise detail and now he is prepared to crazy glue everything in place – the weapon employed by Lord Business in the animated world – so that it stays perfect.
His son has messed this up with his creativity, though. There are now dragons on top of skyscrapers and Han Solo alongside Batman. At first the father gets upset, tells his son that he wasn’t allowed to play with it, and starts dismantling the creative elements to put them back where they “belong.”
As he goes along, though, he starts to see some of the beauty in what his son has done. Just as importantly, he realizes that he is Lord Business. When your son makes you the villain in his games, that’s not a good sign of your parenting. The son is then allowed to reinsert Emmet to the animated world to save the day. At the climax we get a parallel conversation between Emmet and Lord Business in the animated world and the father and son in the real world. The son, as Emmet, offers Lord Business an opportunity to repent. This would mean allowing everyone to be different and to have their own ideas. The father, as Business, does so, cancelling his crazy glue plan and telling his son that he (and his sister) could play there any time they wanted.
It’s definitely a heartwarming redemptive ending to a heartwarming movie. It’s a message that is very simple but still powerful for adults and kids alike.