Liberty in Legoland: a Movie Review

The Lego Movie
The Lego Movie
The Lego Movie: an allegory for liberty?

Movies are funny things. They can mean different things to different people and different things to the same person depending on the moment.

At this moment, to me, “The Lego Movie” stands as an allegory regarding religious liberty. Its necessity. Its repression. Its enemies. Its ultimate triumph.

It doesn’t hurt that the movie is also exceedingly funny and visually engaging (every scene could actually be built in Legos, if you had bundles of Legos), but that’s ephemeral stuff compared to its underlying message.

The movie begins and ends with Emmet (Chris Pratt): a construction worker so focused on being happy and compliant (read: milquetoast yet smiley) that practically no one remembers him when he’s left a room. Emmet is so compliant-minded he can’t do anything without instructions, and, even more disturbing, he sings the following song lyrics with unabashed sincerity: “Everything is awesome/Everything is cool when you’re part of a team/Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream.” (Emphasis added.)

Emmet’s everything-is-awesome attitude flavors his view regarding his land’s leader: President Business/Lord Business/The Man Upstairs (Will Ferrell). He is the supreme leader. He disdains individuality, which he thinks leads to disorder, and, ultimately, chaos.

But Lord Business has a plan to address this disorder. He has a weapon (the Kragle) that will force everyone to conform to his idiosyncratic idea of order, and he plans to use it very soon. In the mean time, President Business enforces his rules (1) via the police, personified by Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), who is sometimes Good Cop (Liam Neeson with a high-pitched voice), and (2) via an army of robots known as the Micromanagers. The Micromoanagers tell everyone exactly where and how to stand (a big deal in Legoland, evidently), and they represent the bureaucrats in President Business’ regime.

There is only one problem: Virtruvius (Morgan Freeman) has prophesied that one day a master builder called the Special would find the Piece of Resistance, which is the only item capable of neutralizing the Kragle. And, as you undoubtedly already guessed, Emmet is the Special. It becomes his job to save the Lego universes (there are several, and they all conform to a Lego playset) from President Business.

So, there you have it: the antagonist, the protagonist, the central struggle.

This is a perfect allegory for religious liberty.

Religious liberty has always been a struggle between the individual (or individuals formed into groups, a.k.a., churches) and the State/Supreme Leader. Throughout history, the State has used police and bureaucrats to micromanage the lives of religious individuals and repress the free exercise of their religion. The State’s common justification for religious repression is that religion (as an entity that derives its power from God — a non-state actor) challenges the State’s authority and creates disorder among the citizenry.

Since the State doesn’t like to be challenged, but does like compliant citizens, religion must be violently eliminated, micromanaged to death, or thoroughly marginalized. If not, individuals will think for themselves, challenge the State, and create chaos. It’s all about control, whether it’s Lord Business employing the Kragle, or a public-school teacher telling a six-year-old he cannot read Beginner’s Bible during reading time.

You see, the State likes Emmets. Emmets smile. Emmets sing catchy collectivist songs. Emmets revere their leaders and follow instructions.

The State doesn’t like Virtruviuses. Virtruviuses think independently. Virtruviuses act individually. Virtruviuses are skeptical of their leaders and challenge the authority of the State. Vitruviuses corrupt the Emmets of the world.

And the State certainly does not like it when Emmet (having realized he is the Special) and Virtruvius meet with a motley crew of other rabble-rousers in Cloud Cuckoo Land — a term usually used to connoted an idealistic place where everything is perfect, but also a term used by Hitler in Mein Kompf to refer to certain proposals of this political rivals. Near the end of a planning meeting regarding how to stop Lord Business’ illegitimate plan to destroy the Lego universes, Bad Cop shows up and disperses the meeting by shooting up the joint and destroying, among other things, the Batwing.

This scene echoes similar real-life State behavior. Jolly Ol’ England used to break up Quaker meetings by brutal, violent means because the Quakers just wouldn’t conform to society’s norms of swearing oaths and doffing hats. (For shame, Quakers).

There are many more parallels to mention, but let’s skip ahead. (I’m about to give away the ending here, but it’s a cartoon, so the ending was always going to be happy.) Emmet unites and saves the Lego universes (thanks in no small part to his self-sacrifice — hence making him a Christ Figure), with help from his live-action counterpart, by persuading The Man Upstairs that not everything has to be uniform and orderly.

The Man Upstairs finally accepts that authentic society is not always about following the Supreme Leader’s every instruction. In a metaphorical sense, he realizes individual conscience and creativity are indispensable components of human existence. They are more important than the unattainable (and boring) idea of social homogeneity. Individual religious conscience, no matter how violently repressed (by fake Lego lasers) or how bureaucratically micromanaged, will always triumph. And this triumph comes, not through violent means, but through the power of reason, conviction, and persuasion.

Let us all be thankful for the corrupting influence of Virtruviuses.

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