Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Lego Movie (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 2014)

(spoilers; in fact, THE spoiler, if you care)

Marshall McLuhan was fond of "does a fish know it's wet" metaphors to demonstrate the pervasive spread of mass media. For McLuhan, the ability to jump outside of the mass media fishbowl forms a cornerstone of critical thought in a modern, perpetually plugged-in democracy. So I wonder how hopeless he would have found The Lego Movie

On the surface, it seems exactly what McLuhan ordered. A computer-animated Lego world is run with soul-deadening precision and efficiency by the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell). But lone schlub Emmett (Chris Pratt) gathers a mini-utopia of misfits to fight Business (that's with a capital B, mind) in a battle for creativity. Perfect - we can never have enough films taking a stand against the captains of industry. Only, lo, it turns out that this world is a mere subset of a live-action world. In Twilight Zone fashion, a father played by a flesh and blood Ferrell lords over his gargantuan Lego set, a veritable orgy of discretionary income, and reprimands his son for embellishing his antiseptically coiffured play land with nonsensical combinations. Eventually, the son inspires dad to unclench and allow his imagination to create a less rationalized world with a corresponding utopia forged in the animated world. 

In essence, then, we have a fish bowl within a fish bowl. The clever/evil gambit of the film is to have us cheer the defeat of the arid business hegemony in the animated world so that we ignore the machinations of the live-action world, populated only by dad and son. For the one creative option the film will never allow us to exercise is to not buy Legos. This is the nightmare of A Scanner Darkly, a mediatized environment with no outside, dreamt of in McLuhan's philosophy but the precise contours of which would no doubt prove as baffling to him as it is every day for us fish.

And yet I can't help fixating on the window in dad's basement where he keeps his Legoland.
Is this the way out of the fish bowl within the fish bowl? I'd hate to posit "nature" as the answer except as a severely unplugged mode of existence. But what else is out there? Sex? Drugs? Can't be rock 'n roll; too much a product of the culture industry. The avant-garde? The essay form? Meditation? Klieg lights? Another fishbowl?


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