By now you’ve heard that The Lego Movie is way better than anyone thought it would be. I have two 10-year-old boys, one who “plays” with Legos and one who is a Master Builder, so they have been excited since seeing the trailer last summer. I thought it looked ok. In the way that all kids movies that aren’t Pixar are ok. I was wrong. It’s so much better than ok. On some levels it’s absolute genius, and on it’s commentary about corporate influence on a disparate society, it might have the answers to solve the socio-economic divisions that are fracturing this country.
The hero is Emmett, a non-descript lego construction worker. He happily, hyper-happily, spends his days watching the only television show, a stupid comedy call “who took my pants”, listening to the only song, a overly upbeat piece of pop fluff called “Everything Is Awesome” and working on a construction site where he builds skyscrapers according to the directions. Emmett’s only problem is that is he is desperately lonely. He thinks he is doing everything he should to have the perfect life, but his constant conforming to every rule and limited option available to him, has made him so common he is almost invisible even when he’s talking directly to you.
Unknown to the people of Lego City, there is a battle going on for their way of life. The leader of Lego City, President Business is actually the evil villain Lord Business (pay attention, this business stuff is going to be the point really quick) and he wants to destroy all the alternate lego universes that are inhabited by Master Builders. I’ll back-up a bit, cause it’s going to get Matrix-crazy here. On the alternate lego planets, they don’t follow the plans. The put the blocks together according to their own vision and creativity, and Lord Business hates people “being weird” and going against his plans and wants everyone to build the sets as instructed. Are you starting to get what’s going on here?
So, there’s a prophecy that a Special will come along and carry the “Piece of Resistance” which can stop Lord Business. Emmett is that Special. To save some time…Action Scene, Action Scene, Batman, Falling in Love, Funny Line, Funny Line, Dumbledore/Double Door, Superman, Green Lantern, Generic Space Guy, Action Scene, Action Scene, Han Solo…and Lando…and Millennium Falcon…well, it moves along really quick and there is a lot of action, a lot of funny lines, a lot of heart, and as I promised earlier, a huge comment on the haves and the have nots.
The villain is named President Business and the hero is a simple, conforming, non-descript worker. Business wants the world his way, and only his way, no funny stuff. In order to make it happen, he keeps the workers just happy enough with diversions such as silly pop songs, stupid television, oh, and over-priced coffee that they feel is better because they paid more for it.
Hopefully you have seen the movie, because the only way I can tell you the genius of this movie is to reveal the ending.
As it turns out, the Matrix is actually more complex than we know, and Lord Business is actually living outside of the Lego City, in the live-action world. The real President Business is Will Ferrell; a father and a Lego, um, enthusiast. He’s a freaky Lego builder who builds the sets, big elaborate sets, exactly by the plans and then glues them to boards in his basement so that they never change…and can never be played with. And he has a son, who sneaks down to the basement, and, gasp, plays with the Legoâ€™s in elaborate stories, all of his own making…and he has been creating the story playing out in the movie all along. So, on the simple level, it’s a son who wants his dad to loosen up and play, and on a bigger level…well, here we go…
On first blush, it would look as if this movie is saying that we must destroy big business in order to be free and to be ourselves. A common conservative talking point is that liberals want to destroy corporations. But that would imply that the son wants to destroy the father, which he doesn’t. Nor does anyone want to destroy business…we all need business and jobs and money and food and stuff (Nobody, especially not Lego, wants to destroy Business…because they are, in fact, Business…Lego sets are not cheap, my friend). What the son wants, and what the people of Lego City (and oh, let’s say Detroit City and Chicago City) want and need is a balance of the business world and the worker world. We find out that there is no one Special, but that everyone has a role to play in society, and that you want to perform that role with some dignity and have it rewarded because all the roles really do matter. At the end of this movie, President Business isn’t destroyed, he’s made better. He’s seen the soulless city that he has created and decided it’s not bringing him or his son the happiness that is should. We all have to live in the Lego World together, and that world is not going to work if most of the people are glued to a table in the basement. Once the haves of our society realize that by shutting out all the have nots, they are really just walling themselves in. Henry Ford realized that by paying his workers so little, none of them could afford to buy the cars they were making. There had to be a balance of reward for the worker, value of the prize and profit of the investor. There is only one world and we all have to find a balance to make it work for everyone or, soon, it won’t for anyone.
One of the final jokes of the movie is that now that the father and son have found a way to live in Lego City together, they might even open it up to the little sister who hasn’t been allowed in so far. Because we all know that eventually women will get an equal role in the workplace, but never right away…we always have to wait for the sequel.