This article contains spoilers about The Lego Movie. If you have not seen the Lego movie because you haven’t had time, bookmark this article and come back to it when you’ve experienced the glory of that particular film. If you have not seen the Lego movie because you don’t want to, you’re wrong. You do want to see it. You just don’t know better yet.
You have been warned.
The Lego Movie was advertised to the masses as a pop culture mashup, an adventure meant to sell new toys. Most of us walked out of the theater pleasantly surprised to find that it was so much more: a story meant to warn against the dangers of growing up and becoming locked into a routine of order and “supposed to.” The Lego Movie does this by expertly employing the tropes of Postmodernism. Here is a breakdown of five ways that The Lego Movie is a postmodern masterpiece.
1. It employs Pastiche
Right from the beginning you can tell that The Lego Movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. The script in the first scene reads like it was written by a nine-year-old, and there’s a good reason for that. By letting the dialog at times seem so rudimentary, the writers allow us to relax and enjoy ourselves. This silly style of writing then opens up opportunities for some artfully absurd things to happen.
2. There’s Intertextuality
Another big trope of the postmodernists is Intertextuality. You see it every time you watch Once Upon a Time. Lego has made a lot of licensed sets over the years. By bringing those characters in, they draw on iconic personalities that we already know to propel the story forward. We don’t need any explanation of who Batman is and why he behaves the way he does. We know Batman, so we can skip the backstory and get into the action.
3. It’s Metafiction
The movie is one giant work of Metafiction. It starts off sounding like it was written by a child because the main plot we’ve been following is the creation of a child. The writers of The Lego Movie got the entire audience to invest themselves in a silly plot about a chosen one and a mystical weapon before pulling the big reveal: the story we’re actually engaged in is one about fathers and sons, adults and children. It’s about growing up and what that should mean.
One of the most-admirable things about the marketing for the film was that not a single preview I saw (mind you, I don’t have cable) spoiled it for me. So many times we get excited for a movie only to walk away feeling like the potential for a great film was sold to market a few more toys (I’m looking at you, Michael Bay.) The opposite happens here; I was sold on the cheesy marketing ploy, and I walked away pleasantly surprised to find art there.
4. It Explores the Flattening of Affect
There are countless late-20th-century films and stories about people who find themselves living unauthentic lives because of drugs or technology or suburbia. The Lego Movie brings us a new reason that we’re all behaving like emotionless shells: growing up.
In the first few minutes we see that our hero, Emmett, lives in a world of popular music, formulaic television, and people who always follow the instructions. At first it seems like an evil corporate plot, but when we pull back and see the father-son relationship in the framing narrative, we realize that this isn’t exactly the case.
Yes, President Business is a corporate big-wig who is trying to homogenize everything, but we also know that it’s not out of greed. It’s a desire for order. Somewhere along the line, as we grow up, we lose our creativity out of fear of failure. Afraid to make things that are messy and ugly, we also stop making things that are beautiful.
The Lego Movie may be a mashup of Batman, bizarre dialog, and a bunch of jokes about a double-decker couch, but it’s a beautiful mess—and it works. This movie could have merely been a straight plot line rendered in 3D and advertised all over TV to sell toys, but it’s not. The Lego Movie reaches out to adults and teenagers, anyone who forgot how to be beautifully unorganized and uncool. It grabbed us by the funny bone and shook us violently, screaming “PLAY. GOSH DARNIT! BE FREE!”
And that brings me to my final point. It’s about that message of not caring how things are supposed to be. It’s the thought that woke me up at one in the morning and whispered, “You have to write this down.”
5. It’s All an Even Bigger Metaphor
It should be obvious to anyone who saw the movie that President Business—in his attempt to freeze the world with the Kragle—is just a metaphor for the father, who got so caught up in how things are supposed to look that he was willing to pour superglue on his Lego set instead of playing with his son. We all got that one (at least I hope we did). This is another Metaphor.
It’s about Postmodernism.
Postmodernism was a reaction to Modernism, a movement in the early 20th Century that sought to create new conventions of representation, stripping away the frills, and making form follow function. Like the Modernists, the Postmodernists rejected the rigid conventions of the Classicists. Unlike the Modernists, the Postmodernists didn’t mind if things got a little bit messy and frivolous.
The father is a Classicist, following the rules to put together harmonious, safe creations. The son is a Postmodernist, mixing properties, repurposing used half-eaten lollipops, and making a glorious mess. The Kragle represents the father’s strict adherence to classical conventions. The son’s unbalanced spaceships and mech-pirates are the intertextual, time-bending, hyperreality, fragmented works of art that say, “Hey, Batman can be art, too. Why don’t you chill out and have fun.”
And that is, all metaphors and analysis aside, what The Lego Movie is.
Read about Dystopia in The Lego Movie here.