We have had no less than six very fine and informative reviews of Pixar’s new The Incredibles already (Triniman Chris Beaumont Screen Rant Sombrero Grande Dave Hill Jeremy Chrysler), interviews with writer/director Brad Bird and producer John Walker, and more general info here.
With so much ground well covered, please allow me to make a few disjointed observations.
POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD
My wife and I saw the movie last weekend and loved it. We could especially relate to the family dynamics, including “work for the sake of supporting the family” vs. work that is personally fulfilling. While I have indulged my own mythic pursuit of self-fulfillment via self-expression, the fantasy of making the world a better place by imparting to it my pearls of wisdom and providing a forum for my worthy fellow scribes via Blogcritics, she has supported our family by working at “real jobs” while I fiddle and dream. Allow me to thank her publicly here.
The Incredibles implies that if we do not do work that allows for the expression and development of our “true natures,” then we are destined to be unhappy, disengaged and to take it out on those we care most about, in particular our familes. That’s my excuse anyway. Self-actualization may be the surest path to career success in the long run, but the bills don’t stop as these things work themselves out – we all need some bankrolling in that regard. The irony that self-expression requires outside backing is not lost on me.
Big Questions from a Little Head
I saw it for the second time Friday night with my 5 year-old, and she loved it, although, as usual, she had many lines of thought racing around her pretty little mind, deepest of which was, “Why did Buddy turn bad?” “Did he HAVE to?” And, “Why was Mr. Incredible mean to him when he was a boy? He just wanted to help, didn’t he?”
Penetrating and sophisticated questions: kids are not dumb OR shallow. Why DID Mr. Incredible dismiss the boy Buddy? It’s complicated, just like real life. On the one hand Mr. Incredible was haughty and ego-driven. he worked alone because that was the simplest path to the ego-gratification he saw as a prime perk of the profession of super hero (“soops” as they are referred to in the film – exactly something that would happen in the real world, where we come up with abbreviations and nicknames for anything we deal with regularly, or is important to us). Why share the glory when you don’t have to – real super heroes work alone, don’t they? (Learning the power of teamwork is the exact point of the second half of the film.)
And yet it wasn’t only ego that disinclined Mr. Incredible to encourage a kid to get into the biz: saving the world on an ongoing basis is a massive responsibility and exceedingly dangerous work. Besides being a kid, Buddy had no “natural” super powers (an exploration of the sociology of which is at the core of X-men and is a strong recurring theme in Fairly Odd Parents and Jimmy Neutron) and a super hero life without super hero powers (although the kid is one hell of an inventor, to a degree that might be called “super”) is almost certain to end quickly and messily: far more responsible (and, frankly, easier) to discourage the kid entirely than leave th door open to an unfortunate result.
Of course the result turned out to be far more unfortunate than anyone could have imagined when, as my daughter put it, Mr. Incredible’s rejection turned Buddy “bad” and his inventive abilities were put to the service of utterly unrestrained ego, i.e., evil. Or, looked at from another angle, was Buddy predisposed to badness anyway and Mr Incredible’s brushoff was merely the first catalyst that happened to come along? We get deeply into nature/nurture theory here and the essence of personal responsibility. Was the trauma of rejection so great that Buddy was driven to extreme revenge involving serial super heroicide, or would he have turned to the dark side anyway? I don’t know – ask Darth Vader.
The Pursuit of Excellence
Also on the philosophical menu of the film is the role of the individual in society, brought home by Buddy/Syndrome’s line, “And when everyone is super, then no one will be,” as he relates his plan to make his inventions available to the public (“after I’ve had my fun”), thereby granting all who wish it “unnatural” super powers, rendering super abilities commonplace.
Does society exist for the benefit of individuals or the other way around? The former we call democracy, the latter fascism, totalitarianism, autocracy, even monarchy – in fact, the former idea is far more radical and unusual than the latter, which has been the political norm throughout most of recorded human history. The United States was th efirst true functioning democracy (and it’s actually a democratic republic) in world history, and experiment that is at least nominally now held to be the world norm: government draws its legitimacy from the individual, not the other way around.
This is also the core of the capitalism-communism debate: can altruism be compelled without destroying initiative and ambition? Can “human nature” be overcome through compelled “sharing”? Where is the line between “self-actualization” or self-expression,” and “selfishness”?
Th Incredibles seems to imply that we are all “special” but that some of us are more special than others, and the world is a better, happier place if individuals are free to openly express and pursue excellence rather than repressing these characteristics so as to not offend the sensibilities of the masses in the statistical average. We can see this dynamic very much at work on the world stage underlying tectonic differences between cultures.
Who would have thought such complex and heady notions would also animate a vastly entertaining animated feature? The Incredibles is just that.