The LEGO Movie might wind up on my short list for movie of the year, despite all the tantalizing offerings from Godzilla to Dinobots and myriad Marvel movies on the horizon. A lot of children’s films like Toy Story, Wreck-It Ralph and even Frozen tend to make solid points, but LEGO may be one of the more insightful all-ages films I’ve seen in a long time. Instead of easy answers to complex problems, it pokes at obvious pitfalls but avoids pat answers to reconciliation and restoration, stacking a story that inspires head and heart.
Andrew Thompson already did a great job juxtaposing order and chaos – instructions versus creative freedom – in our inaugural post. I thought I’d elaborate on ideas of lordship and reconciliation that we see in the film.
“Let’s take extra care to follow the instructions, or you’ll be put to sleep… and don’t forget Taco Tuesday…”
Most people think President Business is a great guy. They love him… or at least they love the persona they see from afar on video screens promising them tacos (provided they follow the instructions). They know his caricature, but not his character. He can even slip in phrases and warnings about what happens to those who oppose him, but the media machine keeps spinning a smile onto everyone’s faces. That’s just something that happens to other people, right? Nothing to see here, move along. Where are my pants? Laugh track.
As we see President Business interact with masses versus individuals, the duplicitous dispositions are evident. He can be warm and reassuring that everything they’re doing is the right thing to do. He can expertly manipulate and deceive, yet still seem encouraging. Behind closed doors, however, we witness the threats and abuse he throws around to ensure his status quo, not only on enemies like Emmet but even his own servants (and their families) like Bad Cop. He’s also erected walls to reinforce his regime, barriers to confine those who might collaborate, systems to confine and contain the bigger picture that might expose who he really is and what he’s up to.
Does this sound familiar? Can you relate?
Even more revealing, he’s not really President Business. Although the film masterfully mocks our corporate and consumer culture, the issue runs deeper. The antagonist is Lord Business, self-proclaimed sovereign of his construct. He is ultimate, unchecked authority (at least in his own mind) and “Lord” is a term often reserved for deity. In this way The LEGO Movie makes the application go beyond poking the ribs of runaway Capitalism: this narrative applies equally to the overbearing father, or tyrannical religious leader. It’s no mistake part of the narrative toys with the idea of prophecy, or that the ultimate authority is “the man upstairs”. These divine-level elements turn out differently than one might expect in the course of the movie, but the reach of the story is higher than critiquing contemporary culture. It’s application is ancient. In fact, this is what Jesus said about those who “lord” their business over others:
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…” – Mark 10:42-45
In every generation, in many of our institutions, there will emerge a Lord Business… someone who is about lording their will over others, locking everything down with some form of “kragle”, elevating themselves and their agenda at the expense of others, who are subsequently ground beneath the building blocks of their own selfish legacy. The group of “lords” Jesus came down hardest on was the Pharisees:
“…they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders… they do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:3-12
Sometimes, like Emmet, we find ourselves in the beguiling thrall of a Lord Business. In fact, the likelihood is that at some point in our lives each of us will find ourselves in such a place, amidst life’s many relationships: our family, our work, our church, etc. For some of us, it may be an employer, a soulless enterprise that is fundamentally about the bottom dollar, and in some cases we must endure it for the sake of provision. We may not be slaves, but we’re wage slaves. In other cases, however, what should we do if we have opportunity?
When there is opportunity to free ourselves from it, we should extricate ourselves.
When there is opportunity to speak out against it, we should avail ourselves.
When there is opportunity to transform that culture, we should participate in it.
Jesus makes it clear, however, that this form of lordship is not something to be accepted, or emulated, and most certainly not in the composition of his community and family, the church.
Emmet, with seemingly nothing special and his little red “piece of resistance” winds up looking a lot like puny David taking on corporate Goliath. It looks impossible… even laughable… and even his fellow creatives don’t see how the world can ever be changed. What we find, however – without being overly-spoiler-filled – is that there is a much larger picture, something behind the LEGO layers, a larger narrative playing out parallel with Emmett’s (and our) perspective. There is a grand, mysterious meaning that shifts the entire context and, ultimately, makes all things possible. When touched by something beyond the confines of a LEGO landscape, the kingdom of crushing control can be overcome. While our protagonist struggles, and indeed matters, it’s not about him: there is a larger hand interceding on his behalf.
That’s the Christian’s hope in Christ, and what makes Jesus even more special… that instead of a made-up prophecy, He fulfilled a true one. That Christ’s kingdom, outside the bricks of our own material universe, intercedes with our own and caps the “kragles” of this world… making Jesus the only worthy Lord, and one who loves us like family and restores relationship (which we’ll look at in the next post). The LEGO movie reminds me that if I hope in Him, He restores all things and makes all things new. He makes my struggles – and patient endurance – truly matter. He renews our strength, and tells us we will “mount up with wings like eagles”.
Or, maybe like Batman?