“Nobody ever said I was special!” – President Business
In our last look at The LEGO Movie (soon to be on Blu-ray/DVD) there will be *a lot of spoilers* (you’ve been warned) because the ending was amazing and I – for one – didn’t see it coming.
When the film broke the fourth wall (literally, as LEGO bricks fell away) and revealed not the man upstairs, but man and boy upstairs… I felt thrown for a loop. Even more shocking was the focus on reconciliation, not just for a father and son, but the repentance of Lord Business. True, there is still a subsequent explosion (it IS a comedy, after all) but the event had the unusual effect of bringing me to tears.
President Business is methodically – and yet desperately – trying to keep all the pieces of his world in perfect order. It’s all about control, and not simply about keeping the rules: it’s about trying to make a lasting achievement that shows everyone how amazing he is. And yet… we see a big problem: no one ever told him what Lucy tells Emmett earlier in the film. The effect on Emmet was profound:
“That night in the city, when you thought I was the Special, and you said I was talented, and important… That was the first time anyone had ever really told me that, and it made me want do everything I could to be the guy that you were talking about.”
Have you ever been told you were something you didn’t believe? Didn’t feel? Or maybe you did feel this, but your worldview didn’t support it? Did it inspire you to seek further, to strive, to live up to that ideal? We see the obviously deficient Emmet striving to emulate something amazing, something more special than even the might of the Master Builders. While he may not actually be some sort of cosmic, supernatural “special” we come to see he’s reflecting – or “imaging” if you will – the vital spirit of the boy upstairs. He is a pivotal participant in the boy Finn’s story that uses LEGO sets as backdrop for a greater narrative.
With a child’s vigor, Finn is playing out a story to reconcile the need for rules and instructions with the desire for no rules and no consistency. While I think culture has muddled the message of the movie Frozen, with its angsty song in the center that makes people miss the true liberation in the soul of the story, The LEGO Movie makes a similar point about the tightrope between rules and anarchy. Instead of just ridiculing rule-makers and reveling in a “no right, no wrong, no rules for me” mentality, the movie’s visit to Cloud Cuckoo land is a nice parody of our culture’s self-nullifying notions of no absolute right or wrong.
EMMET: So there are no signs on anything. How does anyone know what not to do?
UNIKITTY: Here in Cloud Cuckoo Land, there are no rules: There’s no government, no baby sitters, no bedtimes, no frowny faces, no bushy mustaches, and no negativity of any kind.
LUCY: You just said the word “no” like a thousand times.
UNIKITTY: And there’s also no consistency. Any idea is a good idea except the non-happy ones. Those we push down deep inside where you’ll never, ever, ever, EVER find them!
Emmet, and the story flow, show how laughable and ineffectual this chaotic counterpoint to President Business truly is, and how each Master Builder doing whatever they feel is right lacks any kind of unifying order, direction or focus to create change or overcome their obstacles and adversaries. There ARE instructions worth following, tempering an equally great need for creativity within that structure that produces momentum toward a common goal.
Emmet is the conduit that brings this to life, the “everyman” yet Special… highlighting how we, the viewer, must balance between the fact that there is nothing new under the sun, that we share a lot of things in common, and yet we possess an intrinsic need to know we are unique and “special”. Emmet passes this on to Lord Business:
“You don’t have to be the bad guy. You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things. Because you are the Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true. It’s about all of us.”
We would LOVE to believe that we’re special. It’s one reason The LEGO Movie strikes chords within us. So how can the prophecy be made up by Vitruvius, yet also be truth? This is either wishful thinking, or there is something that creates that dichotomous-seeming reality. Think about it… in the context of the movie, Vitruvius may have made it up, but WE know he’s a character in a story being directed by Finn, an imaginative boy above them all who has an adventure and climax and ending to his tale set in the midst of a fabricated plastic universe. It’s both made up and destined by a literal “guiding hand”. Emmet and Lucy and Batman and all of these are a twinkle in Finn’s eye, given life and purpose and direction and destination. LEGO land has life because Finn has breathed new life into Dad’s stale basement.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” – Psalm 139
We may not be toys in the hands of a child, but we are assured by Christian scripture that the ultimate “Master Builder” gives life, shape, direction and destination. He is both giver of life literally, and giver of new life spiriutally. Apart from a “man upstairs” we are nothing special at all, and simply what atheist Bertrand Russell would suggest:
“That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; all the labours of all the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system… the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins…”
This kind of fear might drive a President Business – or a self-centered father figure – to fight against the inevitable decay and prop up a tower of Babel to testify to his achievements… and yet it misses the point. We don’t have to rail against such a fear if this isn’t true. If we truly have objective worth, lasting value – if we are loved – then we can devote ourselves to something greater. Emmet calls President Business, and Finn calls a disconnected father, to something far more freeing:
“I want you to join me. Look at all the things that people built. You might see a mess. For what I see are people inspired by each other, and by you. People take things from what you have, and they’re making something new out of it.”
The incredible idea in the Bible is that we have been made by a Master Builder who made us to bear his “image and likeness”… that we are stewards and little “master builders” set loose to bring creativity and order to creation, to take our roles with sober seriousness and yet maintain a childlike faith and fascination with it. While certain parts should interlock with others, and certain instructions are wise to follow, there is an amazing degree of creativity as we seek to build our “spaceship!”
“…whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do…” – John 14:12
And so, in The LEGO Movie we see father and son reconciled to temper rigid lines with creative expression, we see Emmet bridge the gap between Unikitties and President Businesses, we see a world where walls fall down and people are brought together recognizing that we’re all special and yet our creativity does need constraints, order, focus and unity. In our less LEGO-ready world, I haven’t found any other worldview that stretches out that tightrope quite like Christianity, bridging the division that creates so much conflict between fathers and sons, neighborhoods and nations:
“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…” – Ephesians 2:14
Now in our reality the “man upstairs” doesn’t have a fractured son relationship… in fact, God the father sends his son to reconcile the brokenness in the landscape below. And Emmet isn’t truly “the” Special, but represents and reflects that idea. The LEGO Movie doesn’t go so far as to suggest there needs to be a “true” special, and yet on character (Emmet) does hurl himself into the void and effectively lays down his life to set things right. It’s an imperfect parallel, surely, but a pleasant reminder of the one true “Special” Christians seek to emulate.
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation… and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18, Colossians 1:19
The LEGO Movie is all about reconciliation, and it takes a daring story to turn the enemy into a friend, and to take a silly movie about plastic blocks and build a story that gets so personal and profound. Don’t miss this opportunity to build relationship with family and friends by looking at the intricate story playing out between laughter and Batman jokes. This movie is not narrative DUPLO.
Even though our true “man upstairs” – God in heaven – doesn’t need to be reconciled to his son, our reconciliation is achieved by a loving, interactive son who brings us into his story. Sound familiar? And we’re subsequently reconciled to that heavenly father… a father we’ve all forsaken at some point to declare ourselves presidents of our OWN business in the world. We need to stop controlling, stop with false faces, and stop trying to prove ourselves special when we’ve already been declared special.
May we all repent, putting down our desperate forms of controlling KraGle (or stop pushing down and pressure-cooking our unhappy thoughts like UniKitty) before we explode from the dangers of either trap. We were created for better… we were created to create, to re-create… and to recreate… as the Father, Son and Spirit “upstairs” rejoice over us.