Monday, July 7, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: The Incredibles

The Story: I remember when The Incredibles came out, there was a lot of chest-thumping by conservative pundits (and to be fair, a lot of reactionary liberals) about the whole "keeping the supers down" element of the story, equating it with everything from the "everybody wins a trophy" syndrome to the tax structure that takes more (inevitable however you want to play with the stats and the numbers) from the rich. It was like Pixar had suddenly made their own version of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" (which, frankly, isn't that bad an idea...if they re-write it, because its dramaturgically inert) rather than make a movie about superheroes. Bird has always dismissed the idea as bunk.* But it still shows up on lists of "conservative" movies. People see in movies what they want to see (or don't want to see). Or what they fear to see.

Audiences bring a lot to movies, too. It's just that so much of what they bring to wrong. Or, at least, flies in the face of what the people who actually created the thing intended. I'm not sure whether Ayn Rand would be amused by this idea—objectivism does not hold truck with subjectivity. But, one also wonders if she would do exactly the same thing—finding her own reality in someone else's creation if it adhered to her world-view (in her mind).

It's funny, but this sort of misinterpretation is part of what the movie is about: the heroes think they're doing good work rounding up bad guys (and...loving it). The public thinks they're smashing too much stuff, costing them taxes, and generally doing more harm than good. The mob rules against the actions of the individual (hmmm), and, for the greater good, they are discouraged from their government order.

Hmmm. One can see where the idea might have been got. But, it ignores that Syndrome, the movie's villain, is a self-made man with his own ideas of how things should be and won't take 1) "no" for an answer and 2) prisoners. Anti-hmmm.

Me, I'm a cock-eyed optimist. I do think that everybody's special, each in their own way. Not everybody has to win a trophy, but everyone can pursue happiness in their own way and to the best of their own gifts. But, I don't hold with Dash's reply "...which is another way to say no one is."  

No. No and no. "Everybody's special" means that everyone is special—not the reverse. To think otherwise is to be merely egotistical about it and say "that means I'm not special and that's wrong." It also discounts any diversity to the term "special" other than the subjective point of view based on one's talents and values, while negating any other interpretation.  

Isn't that special?

Ultimately, if one watches The Incredibles all the way through, rather than cherry-picking scenes to reinforce your political views, one will realize it is about celebrating differences, not undermining them, which any political stripe would do well to embrace, lest it be consigned to the dust-bin of history.

The Set-Up:  Superheroes Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl have settled down into suburban life in a government-mandated civilian relocation program after lawsuits and extensive property damage have forced their retirement due to public pressure. Now, with three kids—Violet, Dashiell and Jack-Jack, all displaying super-powers they've been parented to suppress—they live lives of quiet desperation, instead of the heroic kind.   

Some desperation, however, is not that quiet.  


Dash stares out the window in angry silence, watching the trees go by.  
Helen looks at him and softens.
HELEN Dash, this is the third time this year you've been sent to the office. We need to find a better outlet. 
HELEN A more...constructive outlet.
DASH Maybe I could, if you'd let me go out for sports. 
HELEN Honey, you know why we can't do that. 
DASH I promise I'll slow up. 
DASH I'll only be the best by a tiny bit. 
HELEN Dashiell Robert Parr, you are an incredibly competitive boy. 
HELEN And a bit of a showoff. 
HELEN The last thing you need is temptation. 
DASH You always say, ''Do your best.'' But you don't really mean it. 
DASH Why can't I do the best that I can do? 
HELEN Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we just gotta be like everybody else. 
DASH Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of. Our powers made us special. 
HELEN (wearily) Everyone's special, Dash. 
DASH Which is another way of saying no one is.

The Incredibles

Words by Brad Bird

Pictures by Brad Bird and all the Pixar animators

The Incredibles is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

Bird's screenplay took a lot of ideas from post-modern comics: the xenophobia depicted against The X-Men, government suspicion and sanctions against the Justice Society of America, leading the group to disband and go back to their civilian identities, the view of "Watchmen" that these heroes are slightly deranged for the best of intentions, and the whole "public menace" idea that grew out of Marvel comics in the '60's.

No comments:

Post a Comment