Some thoughts on grace and the new LEGO movie come from Michael Belote, author of the wonderful reboot:Christianity blog and author of Rise of the Time Lords, doubtless the best (review here) geeky intro to Christian doctrine available.
Something weird is happening in Hollywood. Just four months ago, the world was introduced to Frozen, a children’s movie chock-full of theological nuance. As I wrote at the time, I felt like this was the best religious movie in years, and figured it would be quite a while until I saw something similar.
Boy was I wrong.
A few weeks ago, I took my sons (who are LEGO fanatics) to see the opening of The LEGO Movie. Seeing such an incredible cast (Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Nick Offerman, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill among others), I figured it would be a fun movie. I was expecting some general kids humor (fart jokes and what-not), some LEGO references, and a few good one-liners for the adults as well.
Boy was I wrong.
The LEGO movie was brilliant. It is one of the best children’s movies I’ve ever seen, even giving Frozen a run for its money. On the surface it is action-packed, funny, and has a twist at the end (which I will not spoil) that is poignant and beautiful. In addition, it is surprisingly subtle and literate; I caught references to everything from Shakespeare to Aristophanes to George Orwell—and I’m betting there are many more references than I caught. And while it is absolutely hilarious (particularly, for me, Batman), it also turns out to be very profound.
Reviewers have extracted all sorts of political messages (Communism, anti-conformism, libertarianism, to name a few), but I found myself preoccupied with the narrative itself, and especially its religious resonances. Without suggesting that the Lego Movie is a Christian work, the parallels are nevertheless interesting – minor spoilers ahead.
The Fall of (LEGO) Man
One of the most interesting aspects of The LEGO Movie is its wonderful depiction of a fallen world. As the movie unfolds, we learn a bit of the mythology of the world’s history. The LEGO world is made up of a series of realms, each one connected to the others: there is the big LEGO city, Bricksburg; the Old West; Middle Zealand (where the medieval LEGOs live); etc.
In the realms, people lived happily and freely. They created whatever they wanted as they wanted. They were free to interact and enjoy each other. However, evil Lord Business hated it, and decided to destroy this situation. So Lord Business built walls around the realms, cutting the members off from one another. He arrested all of the Master Builders—the greatest and most inventive and creative of all builders—and had them imprisoned.
He taught the trapped people of the realms to follow instructions at all costs, creating a dystopian society in which everyone likes the same things, does their job with no questions asked, and always—ALWAYS—follows the instructions. The creativity and uniqueness of the individual was completely replaced. Lord Business taught the people that by following the instructions to the letter, everyone could be perfect: “All I’m asking for is total perfection,” he states, and his goal is to make everyone uncreative, stuck, static: literally glued in their place and unable to create.
Eventually people stop questioning this reality. Only the Master Builders remember the creativity that they were imbued with originally. They live in hiding and fear, having in the past tried and failed to defeat Lord Business.
The Master Builders, in desperation, cling all their hopes to a prophesy. The prophesy states that one day there would be a LEGO called the Special: “the most important, most talented, most interesting, most extraordinary person in the universe.” This person would be the one who would overthrow the evil Lord Business and restore things to their natural harmony.
Do you see that The LEGO Movie has created a base which is pretty similar to our situation? The LEGO people were living in creative harmony in the realms, just as Adam and Eve were living in creative harmony, working in the Garden. The LEGO people were opposed and lied to by Lord Business about their true nature, just as Adam and Eve were deceived by the serpent about their true nature. Adam and Eve were exiled from their realm (the Garden) and stuck in another realm (Earth), just as the LEGO people are separated from their realms. Adam and Eve’s lives became dystopian and harsh as a result of this curse of believing the lie, just as the LEGO people’s lives became dystopian due to believing Lord Business’ lies. Adam and Eve (and their descendants) believe that their justification comes through living perfectly, just as the LEGO people believe following the instructions is the path to goodness. And, finally, Adam and Eve are given a prophesy of one who will break this chain, just as are the LEGO people.
How to defeat evil
What I found most fascinating, however, was the way in which Lord Business is ultimately defeated. People have attacked before: the Master Builder Metalhead once led a band of Master Builders against Lord Business, but they were soundly defeated. Direct attacks from Master Builders won’t work.
What does work, it turns out, is the approach of one construction worker, Emmet (Pratt). Emmet is completely un-special: he is described as an “ordinary, average, everyday guy…he is not special.” When Emmet has ideas for building things—like his double-decker couch—he is told that this is the “dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.
One of the primary plot devices in the film is trying to figure out how Emmet, a totally ordinary and forgettable construction worker, can possibly defeat Lord Business when a legion of Master Builders couldn’t. After all, the Master Builders include everyone from Superman and Wonder Woman to Michelangelo (the painter) and Michelangelo (the Ninja Turtle)…not to mention Shaquille O’Neal. So how could ordinary Emmet be the one who fixes it all?
Well, it turns out that the key to defeating evil in the LEGO universe comes down to basically three things:
- Emmet sacrificing his life for his friends, diving into the “infinite abyss of nothingness”
- Ordinary people embracing who they are—even their failures or when they are incapable of producing “Master Builder” results
- The mature, Master Builders working together in community rather than separate as individuals
These three aspects together result in the salvation of the LEGO world.
How interesting! Think of how much these three sound like that great story of the Bible:
1. Emmet sacrificing his life for his friends, diving into the “infinite abyss of nothingness”
For we fallen sinners, Christ sacrificed Himself (Rom 5:8), calling us His friends (Joh 15:13), even going into the infinite abyss of nothingness (the grave) to speak to those spirits in prison (1 Pet 3:19).
2.Ordinary people embracing who they are—even their failures or when they are incapable of producing “Master Builder” results
We are each given different gifts, not the same ones (Rom 12:6). The Bible tells us that even the most ordinary of us are priests of God (1 Pet 2:9), and that God is largely a God of the ordinary, day-to-day things (Col 3:17-24).
3. The mature, Master Builders working together in community rather than separate as individuals
We are not, however, to use our gifts in isolation. Rather, we are to be a community of believers (Acts 2:44-47), sharing our gifts for the glory of God (1 Cor 12:12-31), all different parts of one wonderful body (Rom 12:4).
The grace of The LEGO Movie
The LEGO Movie is sheer genius in terms of intelligence, humor, and a very sweet ending. But more than that, one can practically trace her life’s journey to God through its runtime.
The LEGO pieces started out free and in tune with their God (their owner)—creative, imaginative, unencumbered by instructions. They fulfilled their purpose in life. However, the Evil One deceived them, separating them from their natural realms and teaching them that their original nature was a flaw rather than a thing of beauty.
They were tricked into believing that perfection through following the instructions was the ultimate virtue, and all of them tried their best to do so.
However, eventually a hero arose who fulfilled an ancient prophesy. This hero seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary—an average construction worker/carpenter who was easily forgotten. But he taught and then died for his friends, creating a path to defeating the Evil One.
In following his path and teachings, the LEGO people of the world had to learn how to use their gifts properly. For those “masters” of their craft with extraordinary gifts, they had to learn to function as one body instead of separate, sometimes competitive, groups. For those with more ordinary gifts, they had to learn to embrace who they were, believe in their own self-value (“Everyone is the Special…”) and use those gifts freely.
Only through this process is evil defeated in the LEGO world.
This is no ordinary children’s movie. This is not an extended advertisement for a children’s toy. There is real sincerity here, real truth, and deep philosophy. This movie is brilliant.
(PS—Although I could find no real excuse to work this into the post, I feel obligated to share the below song with you. This is Batman’s ode to his girlfriend, which he says is “about how I’m an orphan.” Enjoy!)