General Plot: Lightening McQueen is the hot new rookie race car who is stealing headlines with every race. He’s super fast and he knows it. He’s a one man show and vocalizes it. When his pit crew ditches him, he doesn’t care… He’s headed to California for the big championship race (between the King–the current Dinoco Spokescar–and Chick) to decide who will win the treasured Piston Cup and become Dinoco’s new spokescar. But on his way to California, following a string of unfortunate incidents, Lightening McQueen finds himself on a barren stretch of road in a little town, Radiator Springs. In this misfit community of eccentric cars–who do neither know nor care who Lightening McQueen is–McQueen will come to experience community and, thus, love, like he never could before being “an island of one.” The local Judge, Doctor, and former hot-shot race-car, Doc Hudson (aka The Hudson Hornet) will be swept up in McQueen’s story; McQueen will force Doc to face his past, which remains mysteriously hidden, and encourage him out of hiding. The love of this ragtag community will significantly alter the way McQueen (and Doc) see life…to the point of sacrifice.
“Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored.
There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.
Except when they don’t.
Because, sometimes they won’t.
I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
‘cause you’ll play against you.
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot”
Dr. Seuss, Oh The Places You’ll Go.
Dr. Seuss is right – ‘alone’ is something we are quite a lot. We have all been alone. Like Lightening McQueen, we’ve either isolated ourselves intentionally by alienating others on our ‘way to the top'; or, unintentionally, like Doc Hudson, by keeping others at a distance, safeguarding our past failures and our present brokenness. Our plans succeed and we are abandoned, left alone, isolated by those who were once close to us; until…
Until something happens, that is. Something that comes to us from outside ourselves; even when we are trying like to mad to avoid it.
To continue with the auto imagery, eventually we “break down” (McQueen) or we are “found out” (Doc). At the intersection of success and brokenness we hear the message of one-way love. We come face to face with the Cross. McQueen is not left alone, lonely at the top. Doc is not left isolated by his past failures. Something external draws them out of themselves, and, thus, into community. Someone loves them! Mater loves Lightening McQueen for absolutely no reason (and despite his not terribly agreeable attitude). He loves him “just because”. It is a one-way king of love. As Mater’s friendship revives McQueen, he soon comes to find that he can finally love someone else beside himself (Sally, for example). When love is poured in, love pours out. McQueen renovates the town for Sally as a gift, but only after Mater calls McQueen his “best friend”. The entire band of misfits in Radiator Springs embraces McQueen, and McQueen in turn—contrary to everything that he had previously stood for—embraces them.
Doc is not left untouched by what’s going on either. McQueen confronts him, drawing him out of reclusion and back into community (and the spotlight!). McQueen and Doc all of a sudden have true friends and a true family that love them; and it’s a love that is neither merited by achievements nor conditioned by failures. Mater, Ramon, Flo, Sally, Guido, Luigi, Big Red (etc) love them “just because”, no strings attached.
As with most Pixar movies, Cars is about more than giving the audience a warm and fuzzy feeling at the end of the movie, or some sort of implausible mandate a la ‘Now Go Love!’ Pixar never leaves us on an unqualified feel-good note. There’s always one more scene to be played, one more message to communicate. This time the message involves sacrifice. The final scene of the film has McQueen driving the best race of his life, the race for the Piston Cup. He’s implemented the tricks he learned from Hudson, he’s got his best crew: his new family. McQueen is, literally, back on top and seemingly invincible. He is poised to defeat the annoying and conceited Chick. Everyone is rooting for him. As he rounds the final turn, his first Piston Cup within his reach, something terrible happens. The King has a devastating crash that renders him unable to cross the finish line of his last lap, of his last race, in his last Piston Cup.
McQueen slams on his breaks, inches before crossing the finish line. A moment later Chick goes whizzing by and celebrates his win. Meanwhile, McQueen, still not crossing the finish line, backs-up and goes to King’s side. But it’s not to see if King’s okay; it’s to help King cross the finish line, to allow him the dignity of finishing his last race. McQueen sacrifices his career (he will even sacrifice the Dinoco spokes-car slot for his family of misfits), coming in not second place but last…dead last.
In these closing scenes, Pixar demonstrates a profound understanding of the power of love. It depicts its ultimate expression: sacrifice. This is the Gospel message; this is the message of true, divine, one-way love; this is the message of the Cross of Christ. We, by faith, are no longer alienated from God, no longer alone, but are in communion with God himself (Col 1:19-22). The one-way love of Christ invades our lives, directing us outward, toward others. We love as we’ve been loved. Our God and our fellow misfits. Even the Japanese models.