The Lego Movie, with a little (okay, a lot of) G.K. Chesterton

In my finest tradition of after-the-fact, nearly irrelevant movie reviews, I would like to present:

SOME THOUGHTS ON THE LEGO MOVIE

I was prepared to dislike it. I had somehow run across a comment or two online about the movie’s being some sort of Commie agitprop. The name of the movie’s villain, you see, is “Lord Business.” Having seized total control over all the Lego worlds, he now supplies the hapless Lego people with “instructions” on listening to popular music, drinking overpriced coffee ($37), etc. Anyway, I was expecting a lot of the same old corporate villainy schtick we’ve heard before (and which is probably being taught to your children right now, if they aren’t in their anti-bullying class instead).

However, I am pleased to report that these “anti-business” rumors are unfounded. If the movie is “anti-business,” then it is only so in the sense of opposing so-called crony capitalism. You see, the ultimate goal of Lord Business is (****spoiler****) to establish a perfect, orderly system of worlds, and then freeze everything in place with superglue. This is akin to the current practice in America whereby businesses achieve a measure of success, and then collude with an all-too-willing government in an attempt to preclude any further competition from arising.

No, if the movie has a message at all, it is something like “you are special as long as you believe you are special,” whatever that could possibly mean. Don’t overthink it: the movie is just an extremely enjoyable comedy–with action thrown in to try to keep the kids interested. I really can’t recall a recent movie in which I have laughed more. Hint: The Batman character is just amazing.

NOW I OVERTHINK IT

But overthinking it is part of what I do here, so I would now like to discuss a small but philosophically important detail of the movie: the fact that the characters are generally not unhappy with their static, unchanging, perfect worlds. The world one sees the most of is the Lego City World, so we will focus on that. At least during the time the action of the movie occurs, the city seems to have only one popular TV Show, “Where Are My Pants?” and one popular music song, “Everything is Awesome.” Everyone loves them; nobody gets tired of them.

The best illustration of this comes in a scene near the climax of the movie. Emmet and Wyldstyle, the movie’s protagonists, are disguised as robots and attempting to sneak into the lair of Lord Business. When Emmet loses focus and drops the box he is carrying, a large crowd of real robots surround them. The robots grow suspicious and belligerent, and demand to know the serial numbers of Emmet and WyldStyle. At this point, when all hope seems lost, Emmet suddenly begins beatboxing. He then breaks into a robotic rendition of “Everything is Awesome.” The robots pause, and the lead robot suddenly responds, “No way, this is my jam!” The other robots immediately concur–“This is also my jam!” Everyone breaks into a robotic edition of “Everything is Awesome” together.

Everyone, that is, but Wyldstyle, who initially refuses to sing a harmony for the song. The robots grow suspicious and angry again. Seeing this, she immediately breaks into a powerful harmony, and the “jam” continues until Emmet and Wyldstyle are able to make their escape. After the fact, when questioned by Emmet, Wyldstyle contends that she doesn’t like the song. To which Emmet responds, incredulously, “Sure you don’t . . . ” As we all know, one can’t just sing a harmony line that good on the spot. The hip, edgy Wyldstyle evidently likes “Everything is Awesome” as much as everyone else, all her denials aside. It is emblematic of life in Lego World in general. Nobody really minds that everything is the same all the time.

I believe this is generally intended to be a critique both of the vacuousness of popular culture, but also our own vacuousness, since we are the happy consumers of that culture. However, the scene also reminded me of a point G.K. Chesterton once made: repetition is actually a sign of vitality. There actually is something “good” about the silly song, and Lego City World more generally. This goodness and vitality may be the more ultimate explanation of why the Lego characters are bothered a lot less by the song’s repetition than they would like to admit.

Here’s how Chesterton explains the point in his chapter “The Ethics of Elfland” in his book Orthodoxy. It’s a long passage, but worth the read. I’ll break it into a few more paragraphs than Chesterton did in the hopes of making it more palatable:

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death.

The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg. If the human being conceives and brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat, or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again before the curtain. Repetition may go on for millions of years, by mere choice, and at any instant it may stop. Man may stand on the earth generation after generation, and yet each birth be his positively last appearance.

See, I told you that it was worth the read. I think a similar intuition about the meaning of repetition is what makes me so sad whenever a married couple declares to me that they are, by choice, done having children. “The shop is closed!” they say. But they always say it just a trifle too loudly. They know what it really means. As Lucinda Matlock reminds us (in the poem of Edgar Lee Masters), “It takes life to love life.”

But wasn’t this supposed to be a movie review?

 

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4 Responses to The Lego Movie, with a little (okay, a lot of) G.K. Chesterton

  1. Susan Doyle says:

    Brilliant, Alexander!  And funny, too!

      Susan Doyle Director of Religious Education Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church (703) 998-6100, ext. 102

  2. Charlie Geter says:

    Yes, I knew it! I keep telling everyone this is a great movie, but they put it down to my admittedly extreme fascination with Legos. But I never picked up on this idea about monotony. Maybe this is why a part of me feels kind of annoyed with people who think themselves above some of the (by and large pretty vacuous) pop music that’s out there. It’s not all bad though, and maybe that attraction to the familiar can be a good thing.

    • alexanderschimpf says:

      I’m with you on phenomenon of “pop music sneering.” Of course I don’t want any of it during mass, but it’s pretty darn good at keeping me awake during my commutes. I think it has its place in the proper order of things. I just wish we had more of it that wasn’t totally antithetical to the true and the good.

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