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What the Church Can Learn From “The LEGO Movie”

It’s hard for me to believe that the smartest, most forward-thinking commentary I’ve ever heard on American culture came in the form of a movie. And it wasn’t an artsy, indie film. It was a hilariously clever children’s movie.

Now I realize I’m a little slow—people have been talking and writing about The LEGO Movie for weeks— but please forgive me, I just got around to taking my kids to see it this past weekend. (I know, I know, I’m a terrible parent.)

One thing I love about The LEGO Movie is that it’s written in a fashion that allows people to view the film from various perspectives. Fans of culture can comment on the film’s exposé of pop-culture and branding. Business analysts can rant about the film’s anti-business, anti-capitalist message. (Or did it have a pro-business, pro-capitalist message?) Political commentators can write about the film’s portrayal of political systems. And religious writers can speculate on the meaning behind the myriad of religious allusions and images.

I, however, am a thinker, and therefore I connected with the movie from a philosophical perspective.

Critique of Modernism

From the onset of the movie Lord/President Business embodies the spirit of Modernism. His insistence on everyone following specific instructions conveys the modern pursuit of discovering and implementing mechanical systems that reflect the natural order of things. And his statement, “All I’m asking for is total perfection” simultaneously mocks and characterizes the modern belief that if we properly understand and execute on our knowledge of the natural world we will eventually establish a utopian existence. In short, Lord Business, “the man upstairs,” plays a god-like figure by exerting his will as the arbiter of all that is right and good.

Critique of Postmodernism

In opposition to Lord Business there are the Master Builders. These creative beings are not bound by rules. They are innovative thinkers who seek new ways to connect LEGO pieces, and they believe that by working together they can defeat Lord Business.

Yes, the Master Builders represent a postmodern worldview, but just when you think the movie is a postmodern propaganda film, you’re taken to Cloud Cuckoo Land—a world where its inhabitants have an unrealistic worldview and are, dare I say, a little crazy.

We see this chaotic world for what it is the moment Emmet walks in and says to their tour guide, Unikitty, “There’s no signs on anything! How does anyone know what not to do?”

Unikitty’s response conveys the early postmodern reaction to modernism, ““Well, we have no rules here. There is no government, no bedtimes, no baby-sitters, no frowny faces, no bushy mustaches, and no negativity of any kind.”

And when a Master Builder makes an astute and biting observation, “You just said the word no, like a thousand times,” Unikitty, with no hesitation, responds, “And there’s also no consistency.”

And there you have it. In one short scene, a postmodern worldview that suggests that we can live in a state of perpetual happiness if we simply abolished all rules is exposed as an impossible, self-contradicting illusion.

So then what’s the answer to absolute rule-following Modernism and absolute free-for-all Postmodernism?

Emmet

“Emmet” is the Hebrew word for “truth,” and in The LEGO Movie, Emmet is the hero. However, Emmet doesn’t have the skills or persona of a hero. He’s just your average, unmemorable guy who enjoys his simple life in LEGO land. He embraces the culture, and he diligently follows the rules of Lord Business.

But when Emmet stumbles upon “The Piece of Resistance”—the cap to a bottle of Krazy Glue—he’s declared “The Special.” Instantaneously Emmet gains celebrity status and becomes “the most important, most interesting, greatest person of all time.” Through much of the film Emmet tries to convince himself that he is “The Special,” but in time he realizes that he’s not any more special than anybody else and announces that everyone is special—everyone has an important place in this world.

It’s at this point in the movie that the story takes its most unexpected turn. The movie transitions from the realm of fantasy to reality when we see a little boy playing with his father’s LEGOs in the basement.

In this transition to reality the philosophical message of the movie starts to become clear. “The man upstairs”—Lord Business—is a Baby Boomer businessman, which makes perfect sense. You see, the Baby Boomer generation is the last modern generation; they are the last generation born into a world that believes there’s one right way to think and one right way to build the world. Afraid of an uncertain future, the dad wants to glue his LEGO land together; he’s trying to preserve his vision of the world.

The boy, on the other hand, represents a postmodern worldview; he wants to deconstruct the modern world of his father and reassemble the pieces in new and creative ways. The son, however, represents a more mature version of postmodernism (not Cloud Cuckoo Land), a version that sees modernism and postmodernism working cooperatively. We see this cooperative storyline play out as the movie goes back and forth between fantasy and reality. In the fantasy world, Emmet realizes that Lord Business has all the power and that the fate of the LEGO world is ultimately in his hands. And in reality, the son tells his father that President Business doesn’t have to be a villain, that they could build together and that everyone could be The Special.

The Message to the Church

The philosophical message that The LEGO Movie offers the world also applies to the Church.

Baby Boomers are the last generation of modern Christians; they are the last generation that believes there’s one right way to think about Jesus and one right way to build his Church. Afraid of an uncertain future, Baby Boomer church leaders and educators are trying to glue their Christian institutions together; they are trying to preserve their vision of the church.

In response, however, we as the next generation of Christians can’t abandon the Church of our fathers or try to deconstruct it and rebuild it on our own terms. Yes, the Spirit is alive and active, leading us in new and creative ways, yet we need the experience, maturity, and wisdom of our fathers as we navigate our new world.

In the end, I agree with Emmet. I agree that everyone’s special—we’re all uniquely created in the image of God to do good works. And I also believe it’s time for modern and postmodern Christians to stop fighting with one another and work together for the common purpose of building His Church. For it was Jesus who prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

 

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About Leon Hayduchok

Comments

  1. Christof Weber says:

    Guess I will have to go see The Lego Movie now! Nice write-up!

    When we were young, Legos came in only a handful of shapes and sizes. Now Legos come in kits with highly specialized pieces. Star Wars kits. Pirates of the Caribbean kits. And the list goes on. I don’t remember ever having written instructions to follow. And had I had them, I probably wouldn’t have followed them. Building with Legos required more than a little creativity. And it often took even more creativity to recognize that what I had built resembled the ship or the airplane I was imagining in my mind. For me, building with Legos involved creating an unlimited number of things with a very limited number of choices. Now, building with Legos seems to be more about building a limited number of things with a seemingly unlimited number of choices. What would happen if the Pirates of the Caribbean kits and the Star Wars kits were to get all mixed up?

    I wonder if maybe there are some useful Lego analogies for some of the differences between Gen-X and subsequent generations, in general, and with respect to the Church, in particular.

    PS — I just looked up the Lego website. Who knew? 35 different lines of Legos?!! And the next to arrive: Minecraft! How ironic, weren’t Legos the original Minecraft?

  2. John Berglund says:

    Seems to me this is a movie giving kids (and adults struggling with the thought that belief in God is inconsistent with science, etc.) a rationale for still finding meaning even in the absence of a universal narrative. The boy, at the end, speaks directly to The Man Upstairs, who seems to represent two identities (one the past generation, and the other God himself), telling him that you don’t need a universal narrative to make your life special. Finding meaning for one’s existence is the ultimate difficulty for the post-modernist, and in this movie, it is simply generated out of mere belief, a kind of circular exercise that makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy. I find many young people today interested in the IDEA of Christ, but holding back from attempting to contact him for fear he is not really there. This movie tells us that it doesn’t really matter if God or Christ are real or not… we are still special!!! It is the ultimate hedging of bets, but it logical foundation is empty air. To say you are special just because you determine yourself to be means nothing, ultimately. In the face of a materialistic universe, where all will ultimately fade away to nothingness in the eons of time, all one can hope for is that somehow there is meaning for the NOW. The believer KNOWS he or she is special because he or she knows God, and through that knowing, finds his or her ultimate fulfillment, one that can be experienced both in the present, and unto eternity. That is a far cry from the message proclaimed by the Lego Movie. Thus, to me, this movie is insidious in its method, insinuating, as it does, to children, that there is no ultimate meaning in the universe, and that one can exist just fine without such.

  3. Mallory Dizon says:

    I love this post! thank you so much. I see the movie in a completely different way now. Thank You!

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