Everything is Awesome: The Politics of The Lego Movie

Posted on February 8, 2014 by

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Lego Movie Poster ReviewYou may not think The Lego Movie is the place to go for political commentary, but you would be wrong. While it would not be fair to push the theme too far–after all, this is a children’s film based on interlocking plastic toys–The Lego Movie is about the fine balance between individualism and communitarianism and the virtues that define them.

The plot revolves around everyman Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt). Like most of his fellow Lego creatures, Emmet blends in, follows his instructions (they guide his life), and works as part of a team. His construction team, at the behest of President Business (Will Ferrell), demolishes odd structures and standardizes them based on the provided instructions. Life is a conveyor belt. His tastes are middle-to-low-brow. Chain restaurants are his favorite and his preferred television show is a one joke program called “Where are My Pants?” Emmet is happy because he knows no differently.

Emmet’s life changes when he finds a unique piece of plastic that eventually brings him into contact with Lego figures that buck the expected trends. The revolutionaries, including Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Batman (Will Arnett), Benny (Charlie Day), and Unikitty (Allison Brie), are trying to disrupt President Business’s plans to fuse all Lego pieces into a dull homogeneity. They are also master builders defined by their knack for crafting unusual structures and machines out of nothing more than their imaginations. As bearer of the unique piece, the master builders expect Emmet to be a fellow creative force. When he proves he is not, many desert him. Emmet, then, becomes the focal point of the conflict between the collective, of which is unquestionably a part, and the individuals, who possess skills he is in awe of but cannot replicate. As the battle between the revolutionaries and President Business develops, it becomes clear the collective’s ethic has to be harnessed to the master builders’ creativity to achieve final victory.

Again, not to push it too far, but there is always a balance between “the one” and “the many.” A society that focuses solely on the one allows individualism to extremes that destroy individualism. An individualism without boundaries is self-defeating. In order for the one to be exalted and protected, the many must agree to place a protective hedge around him or her. Conversely, the collective lacks innovation as it shapes both the pegs and the holes in which they are destined to fit. At the same time, life as the one is incomplete and disconnected; it malnourishes the soul. We need others to survive and flourish. Communities accrue wisdom, shape habits, and pattern our manners and mores in ways the one cannot.

Two key scenes demonstrate the tension. First, when a group of master builders are fleeing President Business’s fascist crackdown, they build a submarine that is a unique expression of their individual desires. In the end, it fails them by springing a leak. Later, when the battle is joined, the collective society only effectively fights back when it starts to build unique machines to combat President Business. This “coordinated individualism,” so to speak, wins the day.

Like gossamer, children’s films do not bear close scrutiny without falling apart under a critical gaze. The Lego Movie is not a political film per se, but it is a testament to the goodness of creativity. It is a reflection of Legos themselves. They often come in sets that are prescriptive and homogenized, with instructions guiding the process so children, and adults, can construct something just like everyone else. At the same time, one can crack those pieces, shred the instructions, and build something that is unique. In some sense, both are needed and both are valued.

As a film, The Lego Movie is wildly entertaining. It is funny, satirical, and twisted. Visually, it is a sensory delight. The water shimmers, though it is still looks made of blocks, and the sunlight glimmers against a pale blue sky. The music is fun and energetic. Full marks to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who directed and wrote the screenplay. They should be proud of their work.

Final Grade: 2/3 eggheads

 

 

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Posted in: Movie Review