A Theology of Bricks
**Warning: Major Spoilers for The Lego Movie Follow**
Long before I was old enough to follow even the simplest of pictorial instructions, I fell deeply in love with the plastic building toys manufactured by the Danish toy company, Lego. My father would build towers on the kitchen floor, and I would knock them down, laughing deviously the entire time. Eventually, I was building my own towers in addition to castles and spaceships, and Lego sets became a staple of Christmas morning (in fact, even though I’m 24 and a graduate student, they still are). Needless to say, when I discovered the newly released film The Lego Movie, I was excited to see what one of my favorite companies would do on the big screen. While I was not surprised by the quality of the movie’s animation and story, I was pleasantly surprised to find fertile ground for theological reflection, especially on questions of violence and redemption.
The story follows Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt), an everyday construction worker who is particularly good at following the instructions (right down to purchasing overpriced coffee and returning every compliment). One night, Emmet discovers the “Piece of Resistance,” the key to foiling the plans of the devious Lord Business (Will Ferrel) who plans to Krazy Glue the whole world together to preserve his own particular sense of order. Emmet suddenly finds himself at the center of the resistance group – the highly creative “master builders” – but his instruction-following tendencies leave him feeling alienated. After a botched encounter with Lord Business’ police force, Emmet realizes that, although the master builders are highly creative, they cannot work together. Emmet creates a detailed instruction manual that lays out a plan for invading Lord Business’ fortress. Of course, the whole plan eventually goes sideways and the citizens of Lord Business’ city find themselves wielding their creativity to fight for survival.
At this point in a typical movie, Emmet would discover his hidden talents (in fact, he does) and then wield those powers to enact violence upon Lord Business. He has plenty of weapons at his disposal, including a powerful melting ray, Batman’s batarangs, a gigantic robot constructed from Emmet’s old construction site, and the Krazy Glue weapon itself. It would be a particular stroke of poetic irony to see Lord Business defeated by the very weapon he hopes to harness. This pattern is typically identified as the “myth of redemptive violence.” Put simply, we believe that violence is generally bad unless that same violence is used for positive ends such as the destruction of an enemy who wishes to do others violence. Though he could Lord Business, Emmet instead comes to embrace him.
In a dramatic turn of events, we discover that the setting of the film is actually Will Ferrel’s basement wherein he has constructed a complex Lego universe, albeit one where the models are glued together and the themes (castle, city, etc.) are kept carefully divided. The plot has actually been driven by Ferrel’s son, who mixes and matches characters (ranging from Batman to a kitten/unicorn hybrid) and settings for the purposes of an epic story. When the strait-laced Ferrel realizes what his son has been doing, he is eventually impressed by the amount of creativity exerted on both the story and its characters/vehiciles/locations. Recognizing that creativity and instruction-following can work together, he has a change of heart and invites his son to play with his Legos whenever he wants. In the same way, Emmet (back in the Lego universe) convinces Lord Business that he has a special gift to give the world, in the same way that everyone else does (the people of Emmet’s city had earlier turn objects of their professions into creations only they could build to combat Business’ forces). Like Ferrel, Lord Business has a change of heart, recognizing that his absolute concern for order was damaging, but that it can also be a gift to his fellow citizens. Finally, it is Lord Business who deactivates the Krazy Glue weapon.
As much as I loved the inside jokes, pop culture references (Will Arnett’s Batman paraphrases a line from the Dark Knight to hilarious effect), and homages to Lego’s heritage as a company (a classic 80s spaceman is both integral to the plot and somewhat worse for wear), I appreciated this reversal of redemptive violence all the more. True, there is violence in the film itself, but it is ultimately revealed to be useless and wasteful in light of creativity, cooperation, and reconciliation. By challenging this myth in popular culture, we can go a long way towards realizing what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44).” By understanding those who would propagate violence and offering them compassion instead of the barrel of a loaded gun (or shark, in the case of the film’s resident pirate) we begin undoing systems of violence and start realizing the kingdom of God. May we all have the courage to embrace such stories.
Aaron is a second-year MDiv student at Candler and a student ambassador. Originally from Cumming, GA, Aaron was a religion major as an undergraduate at Samford University.