Saturday, February 22, 2014

Gnosticism in "The Lego Movie"


This is one those posts where I look forward to one day looking back upon and laughing at myself for thinking that I ever knew anything.

          After hearing several positive reviews of The Lego Movie I decided it was most definitely time to go see it. One review praised the film as a critique of capitalism, and while even the chance of this was good enough to sell the movie to me, a second recommendation, from a professor at UCA, made the matter of seeing the movie urgent. His recommendation was that the movie, more than being a critique of capitalism, was loaded with Christian Gnosticism (incredibly relevant to both he and I, as we are conducting an independent study on the second century battle between Christian Gnosticism and Proto-Orthodoxy). After seeing the movie I must agree with my professor. 

          Gnosticism, in early Christianity, is not a movement that can be summed up by any one definition. To overgeneralize, simply for the purpose of this post, it is movement in Christianity that argued that the Truth (capital "T") was inside people. Thus, salvation was to find this inner truth that revealed Gnosis, or "Secret Knowledge" that was always inside a person. Gnostics believed humanity to be in much different situation than their rivals, the Proto-Orthodox, argued for. Rather than believing that this world was a perfect creation, ruined by humanity's fall and our subsequent use of free will, Gnostics refused to acknowledge this world as a creation of the perfect God. Instead, this world was created by a lesser god who botched the whole thing after borrowing some creative power from the real God. One name for this lesser god is mentioned specifically in The Gospel of Judas as "Saklas," which translates to "the fool." Gnostics argued that even after making such an obviously terrible world, Saklas had the nerve to assert himself as the one, true God. This fool, this god, is the God of the Old Testament: El, Elohim, YHWH, Jehovah, etc. This distinction is the primary idea that can be seen in The Lego Movie. 
          The big twist, the big reveal, is that the world has been made by Lord Business and he is "the man upstairs." He made this world that is imperfect. He denied anyone's freedom to build what is already inside of them. In his world of supposed order we find nothing but chaos, where in order to maintain order he has had to deny everyone in his world their own creativity, their own divinity. Meanwhile, his son is the actual God that is worth believing in; he is the God that the master builders, the ones who possess the inner knowledge, are fighting for. What else do we see? The fact that to create such a diverse world, the man upstairs is using the ideas that the master builders create, their obvious connection to the real source of creativity in the Lego universe: the real God. It is revealed that the man upstairs is subject to the creative power of the innocent God who lives further upstairs. The man upstairs has created his world in the basement, while the real creative power has been upstairs all along. 
          And what is seen in master builders' contact with the "real" world and its people? It is skepticism of the people's building ability. Is this not the recorded Gnostic's reaction to the Orthodox Christian? We see in both the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas that the Gnostic Jesus laughs at the average Christian's perception of the divine. He laughs at the disciples in the Gospel of Judas for holding communion, saying that they "are not doing this because of your own will but because it is through this that your god [will be] praised" (Judas, Scene One). To the Gnostics, the Orthodox are mistaken in their faith because it is thoroughly of this world. Their god is not worth praise and has brainwashed his creation into believing him and only him. The key to escaping this world is finding that one does not need "the instruction manual" to attain salvation. Rather, one needs to find the Truth that the real man upstairs has instilled within a person. This realization brings salvation, it brings an escape from this world. In The Lego Movie it allows one to enter "Cloud Cuckoo Land."
          This is where Lego shows its cleverness. In Cloud Cuckoo Land there is no questioning anything, no negativity, no unhappiness, and anything that may even potentially turn into negativity is "repressed down deep inside," according to Unikitty. Is this anything other than a critique of the concept of heaven? It would appear at first that Cloud Cuckoo Land provides happiness to its members because it rids them of all the negativity that brings them down. But the truth is much darker. The members of Cloud Cuckoo Land are actually morbidly depressed. There is no happiness in Cloud Cuckoo Land because there is no more freedom there than there is upon the place they escaped from. If freedom is found precisely in one's impotentiality rather than his or her potentiality, then Cloud Cuckoo Land presents a situation where impotentiality is denied as one cannot ever not be not happy. This is manifested as happiness only while one is within Cloud Cuckoo Loud, but as the end of the movie reveals, once again the truth is inside an individual, as Unikitty officially admits to herself that she is unhappy and actually cultivates another's safety because of it.
          Thus, the critique of confessional religion that began by examining Christian Orthodoxy through Gnosticism is fully admitted by The Lego Movie. Just as Unikitty must escape her own psychological prison created by her "religion," so the main character, Emmet, a Messiah if I have ever seen one, must also. Emmet is the true kernel of Truth in Lego. First he, a working class nobody, is faced with the opportunity to be "the Special." The one who will save the world from the man upstairs, Lord Business. Then he is rejected by his new found peers, the ones who declared him to be the chosen one, except for a select few, who remain loyal. Ultimately, as Emmet is suddenly "defeated" by Lord Business, it is revealed that Vitruvious, the prophet who foretold of "the Special" who would save the world, made the whole thing up. The prophecy is not true. Emmet is not the Special because there is no such thing as the special. This is precisely what redeems Emmet and allows him to sacrifice himself to save the others and the world.
          Yet Vitruvious is wrong. The prophecy is true, even though it is completely false. To quote Lego's Messiah, Emmet: "The prophecy is made up, but it is also true." What we the viewers see is that what has occurred within the Lego realm is a religious event, yet is explained away by Vitruvious in his total atheism. To Vitruvious, there is no man upstairs that the master builders derive creativity from. It's all made up! The truth is that everything that happens is what we make happen! The cleverness of Lego is precisely in making Vitruvious a blind prophet. Vitruvious is the ironic hero as what he tells the world is self-evident to everyone except him. 
          The Lego Movie masquerades its brilliance in the innocence of a child's toy. However, it provides a scathing critique of the idea of Truth. What it repeatedly shows is that no one knows anything. Everyone is wrong, even when they are right (as Vitruvious shows)! It presents us with a world full of structures only to tell us that there are no structures and nothing is as it seems. 

1 comment:

  1. 2 cool points I noticed Lucy=Lucifer=Knowledge. Once Emmet wakes up he see his lego world as numbers, i.e mathematics the real force of everything.