I used to be in touch. Well at least I thought I was. For years, several of my work colleagues would tease that I had my finger on the pulse of pop culture. Whether it regarded the latest movies, television series, music, award or reality shows, I could quote, cite or expound with a delicious flair. The (British) Office, Arrested Development, U2, Superbad and Temptation Island were all in my wheelhouse. And more. Yep. Ahem, ahem. Quite the skill (cue leaning back with thumbs haughtily thrust in belt loops).
These were the childless days. The days when you went out on both Friday and Saturday night (and perhaps even Thursday night!), when you followed several television series and rarely missed an episode, when you had seen several movies at the theater in the same month, when you worked out nearly everyday and slept in late (that is, at least until 9 o’clock) on the weekends. Indeed. These were the childless days.
Now I am living in a very different reality. Driving with my wife and two daughters, we shamelessly belt out Frozen’s “Let It Go” with full-throated splendor. I am keenly familiar with nearly every Sponge Bob episode and have deep discussions with my four and seven year-old daughters on the timeless witticisms of Plankton and Mr. Krabs. Names like Flynn Rider, Minions, Fix-It-Felix, and the Croods carry distinct significance for me. And now my stomach turns if I see or hear the slightest from the Kardashians.
And so several Saturdays ago, I found myself in a darkened theater with an inexcusably large popcorn tub and “Diet” Coke (thank you very much) with my wife and two beaming little girls. The Lego Movie was about to begin. Like any family, I was raised playing with Legos and we were doing the same with our daughters. As such, we anticipated a clever show with exciting special effects. It was to be little more than a lark on a lazy afternoon.
Boy, was I wrong.
Now, if you are planning on seeing this movie and want to avoid a spoiler: Stop here. But if you feel uncertain about seeing it and don’t mind some details (or you never plan on seeing it), please read on. So here it is, The Lego Movie in three paragraphs:
The premise of the movie surrounds a regular guy named Emmet Brickowski, a construction worker and eternal optimist, living an ideal life trying to make friends, do good work, and generally make the world a better place. In short order, the perfect world he has so tightly clutched is turned upside down when he happens upon a “Piece of Resistance” (a red plastic piece found under some rubble) that becomes irreversibly affixed to his body. Unbeknownst to Emmet, this piece is the key to an adventure of a lifetime. Before long, he finds himself among a band of superheroes (the mysterious and attractive WyldStyle, the brooding Batman, and the mystical Vitruvius) who reveal to him that the idyllic Lego world is actually run by the despotic Lord Business who is bent on using a nefarious weapon known as the “Kragle”. With the aid of this weapon, he and his army of henchmen (led by the brilliantly-voiced Liam Neeson as Bad Cop) will freeze all Lego creations in their perfect and orderly designed state and in so doing, destroy the free world. The heroes Emmet has met are especially rankling to Lord Business as they are “Master Builders” who ingeniously build Lego creations (cars, boats, motorcycles, weapons) in a spirit contrary to the Lord Business’ orderly, staid, instruction-based society. All in all, The Lego Movie carries a pervasive flavor of oppressive totalitarianism against determined dissidents.
In time, however, it is revealed to Emmet that in finding the “Piece of Resistance”, he is the “The Special”. “The Special” is the person prophesied to deliver the Lego civilization from the evil Lord Business has planned. The only problem: Emmet is hapless. He seems bland, naive and utterly outmatched by his superhero companions not to mention his greatest foe, Lord Business. How on earth could this lowly man play so vital a role in helping others? Now, to untangle this movie and explain how this all starts to make sense…
Lord Business is a control freak and wants everything in his Lego world perfect. To achieve this, he will use “The Kragle” which, in fact, is Krazy Glue (with the “zy” and “u” smudged over) to preserve all creations forever by gluing all pieces into permanent postures. The red plastic “Piece of Resistance” that Emmet found is the cap to the Krazy Glue. Thus, the cap is the key to stopping the glue. While this provides explanation of what is being fought for and struggled against, it is not until the end of the movie that we realize that the entire drama of Emmet, Lord Business and the superheroes has been created and enacted by a young boy (a real human boy) who has been playing in the basement with his father’s extensive and prized Lego set. Soon, the boy’s father (Will Ferrell) comes down to chastise his son for playing with and messing up his ornate, perfect Lego city. In short order it becomes clear that it is the son who has cast his father as Lord Business intent on controlling and gluing all the Lego pieces into permanence. The son, on the other hand, finds himself cast as Emmet and the superheroes resisting this control, only if to enjoy the free and creative play that can be had with such marvelous toys. Great tensions build between father and son when suddenly the scales fall from the father’s eyes. The son has created a drama reflecting their relationship. And it is centered on these Legos. This is only a toy, the father understands. He has been too controlling. And, my, is his son creative and talented. The father’s heart is changed. He rediscovers lost wonder and lets go of control. It is a moment of sheer poignancy not often seen in children’s movies.
It was at this point that I saw a deep Catholic sensibility in the movie.
The dignity of the individual. Emmet, the common man, never becomes a superhero. He simply reaches deep into his flawed self to give the gifts that he can which, ultimately, surprise him and the superheroes. And once he is made aware that the prophecy was completely made up – that there never was a “Special” – he realized it didn’t mean that no one was special, but that everyone is special – even Lord Business in spite of his evil deeds. Every one is dignified, no matter how stained. “Everyone is awesome”.
The value of community. Emmet, the ordinary man, finds himself intimidated and overshadowed by the awesome abilities of his superhero peers. And yet, they were largely prima donnas unfamiliar with organizing, appreciating and cooperating. Paradoxically, this skill set was exactly what Emmet knew as construction team member. From a Catholic view, the Body of Christ is one made up of many with different gifts. No one part should spite the other, but instead to work together for the greater good.
The importance of freewill. The fate worse than death for all of the Legos was to be controlled. Initially, they were lulled into complacency with catchy jingles and distracting reality shows, but soon the horror of being doused with Krazy Glue became all too apparent. It is not that the Legos wanted to do away with all structure and order about which Lord Business obsessed. Rather, they wanted their freewill to take the skills of building to a whole new level. Freewill, rightly used, will bring us not to a lowly human defined order, but rather an order of brilliant actualization intent on becoming the best we were intended to be.
The sweetness of redemption. Emmet told the ruthless Lord Business that the truth isn’t that there is no “Special”, but that “Everyone is ‘The Special’, even you.”. A creative longsuffering son embraced his father who, for years, lacked perspective. These were moments of grace. These were opportunities of redemption. And these made an otherwise clever movie have true heart.
I have no idea of the persuasion of the writers and film-makers of The Lego Movie. And my presumption is that there will be many who would utterly disagree with my impressions. After all, as Flannery O’Connor once cooly corrected, sometimes a black hat is simply a black hat and nothing else. Perhaps. But this is what this Catholic Dad saw at The Lego Movie.
I used to be in touch. Indeed. I used to be. But if this is what it means to be “out of touch”, leave me alone. I am perfectly content.