“The Mitchells vs the Machines” strikes a good balance

“The Mitchells vs the Machines” strikes a good balance May 14, 2021

Netflix’s latest animated movie The Mitchells vs. the Monsters is a fun little film and worth your time. It is visually interesting and creative (along the lines of Scott Pilgrim) with a fast-paced plot and not-terribly-controversial-but-still-super-important themes.

Image: Wikipedia

The core of the plot is straightforward: a jilted iPhone (“PAL”) gets its revenge on its creator by using a robot army to collect humanity into small cells, which are then stacked onto rocket ships to be blasted into space. Which feels like an overreaction to me. To quote the Architect, “I felt a simple time-out would have been sufficient…”

But, PAL’s plans get derailed by their inability to capture one family: the Mitchells. The Mitchells are portrayed as a dysfunctional family–or at least as a family that sees themselves that way relative to what they see in the neighbors and online. More realistically they’re a perfectly normal family with perfectly normal conflicts. Parents and teenagers often rub each other the wrong way; younger folks want to rely on technology and older folks want to value self-reliance and handicrafts (though that is an ever-less common stereotype–remember ‘older’ folks are more and more those of us who grew up around computers), and little kids are weird about dinosaurs.

Appropriately, The Mitchells vs. the Monsters mocks our tech dependence and how it weakens our real-world relationships and ability to deal with life apart from the gadgets. However, the film doesn’t go easy on the tech-ignorant outdoorsy types either. And I think there’s a good lesson here for all of us: we need to be balanced. Yes, we’re too reliant on technology (and I recognize the irony of posting that statement on a forum that only exists electronically). But we don’t want to overcorrect and lose our ability to function in a modern world. What we need is balance. Our attitude should be that of using technology appropriately and in its proper place, not being overly dependent on it, but not being utterly ignorant of it either. This is a tough balance to strike, but it’s certainly one that families should work out together. Doing so will help us avoid the robot apocalypse.

I suppose something should be said about the implied relationship at the end of the movie between Katie and Jade (this even gets a mention in Crosswalk’s review). Even though it has only been six years since Obergefell legalized homosexual marriage in the US, such relationships are a part of our cultural landscape that is here to stay. I’m not going to wade into the cultural tension between Christians who hold to a traditional sexual ethic and where our culture is at these days. Instead, this film is an opportunity for Christians who hold such an ethic to reflect on what cultural engagement looks like. The options appear to be either withdrawing further from culture or watching films with this specific content (in this case, in a very mild form). Whatever the result, the decision needs to be made not by a reflex reaction in either direction, but rather by careful, thoughtful, loving reflection on the best way to witness to the world and enjoy the good things God has created, while not denying sin or the need of all of us for the atonement offered on the Cross.

That’s an aside. The Mitchells vs the Machines is an excellent movie and one you should take the time to enjoy.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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