The Conversation

The LEGO Movie Has a Progressive Streak

In response to Selling socialists the bricks they need to bury themselves:

I took my kids to see the film Saturday. My son, who is six and has played many of the Lego video games, was particularly excited about it.

I began to groan inwardly in the first 10 minutes of the movie. It was set up as a standard dystopian story in which middle-class life is the dystopia from which the main character needs to escape. Think of it as a peppy, colorful version of John Carpenter's They Live or perhaps an earthbound version of Wall-E. Everything from music, to TV, to expensive coffee is portrayed as opium for the masses. The world created by President Business is, somewhat obviously, plastic and full of empty-headed drones.

That story line continues with the introduction of the heroine who, not surprisingly, is a free spirit and a rebel. She's the Trinity inside the Lego world who, in a plot lifted entirely from The Matrix, falls in love with "the special" who no one thinks is very special at first.

Don't get me wrong, there are some original ideas here. If you've seen the trailers, you know that the Lego version of Batman appears in the film. But the Batman in this film isn't quite as cool as the one in the Dark Knight trilogy. Or maybe it's just that he's surrounded with other characters who are equally cool without engaging in so much emo indulgence. Without spoiling too much, let's just say this film suggests a reason Batman works alone: He's a bit self-involved. He gets some of the funniest lines in the film, all at his own expense.

The character of Uni-kitty is also pretty amusing. She's the perky, but repressed, character who lives in a cloying dream world of happy thoughts and rainbows. Her world is another dystopia of sorts which is torn down in the process of the story. It's not hard to see this as a kind of karmic hippie-punching aimed at bringing some political balance to the film but ultimately it's a small subplot. Uni-Kitty is not the villain. The villain is President Business who, we learn at one point, never received a participation trophy and doesn't believe in them.

So I'm not convinced the Lego Movie is a subversive triumph as Mollie Hemingway suggests. At base it remains a story about free spirits (albeit sometimes silly ones) triumphing over the rigid world of business-run cultural conformity. The whole thing can probably best be read as the Lego company's own regret over leaving behind the days when colored plastic bricks came in a tub with no picture on the front and no instructions inside. If it has a theme it's this: Use your own imagination instead of ours!

That's a decent enough message for kids and maybe adults too. But once you move down from there to the political context of the film, we're in more questionable territory. If the Lego Movie is about the "fight against a government that desires control of the lives of citizens" that's because it envisions a future, not unlike Aliens or Avatar, in which business has effectively become the government. This fundamental idea--that corporations are the greatest threat to our freedom and well-being--is the kind of thing one would expect the late Occupy movement to embrace.

So, overall, it's an enjoyable ride with a catchy theme song (Everything is Awesome!) and it softens some of its most strident notes as it moves along. That said, I'm not surprised Michael Moore is a fan.


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