Thoughts On: The Incredibles - Parents To Society


The Incredibles - Parents To Society

Thoughts On: The Incredibles (2004)

A superhero family, exiled by society, has to suit up again.

The Incredibles is a pretty awesome movie, many would say it's Pixar's best - and they have a viable case to argue, but, on this re-watch, it revealed itself to be quite disappointing. Despite the terrific characters, brilliant writing and spectacular world building, the subtextual drive of this movie (which is rather weighty and an overt focus) has significant holes. To see my point, we only have to look at the brilliant opening. Set in the 60s, the opening accounts the fall of superheroes from society. The significance of this can be recognised with the manner in which the police initially interact with Mr. Incredible.

They look up to him as a superhero or a demigod. And if we consider superheroes in general, they all serve this purpose. If they are not literal gods, they serve to be parental figures for society; they are archetypes in the class of kings, prophets and world leaders. These parents of the 60s, as represented by Mr. Incredible, are somewhat jaded - the world isn't growing up and sorting itself out, only getting more complex. Moreover, in a teenage-esque act of rebellion, the world reacts to the 'parents' faults unforgivingly, exasperating them with a lack of appreciation.

This lack of appreciation turns to rejection when the superheroes are outlawed. An interesting element of this segment of the narrative is then 'Incredi-boy'. He, despite resentment, looks up to Mr. Incredible, but, is failed.

As a 'parent', Mr. Incredible then loses both his rebellious and demanding older 'children' as well as fails to recognise those who still need nurture - the youngest and most impressionable - at this point in the narrative. For both of these elements to contribute to all of the superheroes' downfall in this country is incredibly intriguing as it begins to outline a very unique and possibly profound social commentary on the abandonment of idols and the metaphorical parents of society.

This is continued through the entirety of the first act with our archetypal 'parents' becoming actual parents in hiding. Here there develops a further commentary on families and unstructured, collapsing systems - which we will return to. But also, throughout the first act there is an indication that society maybe needs more heroes - a good example of this being the continued problems in society that Mr. Incredible attempts to confront in secret. One of the nicest details of the first act, however, is the little kid on his bike.

He represents a need or yearning in children for superheroes that is still present in modern society despite law, exile and rejection. What we are thus seeing through the majority of the rest of the movie is then society commented on through the microcosm of the Incredible family. It is suggested that our archetypal parents shouldn't be so quickly rejected, but also that they too need to grow. In fact, like the Nietzsche quote, this movie seems to commentate on the idea that 'God Is Dead' and that people killed him. Nietzsche suggested that this is not a good thing as it leaves a society without direction and structure and will give rise to meaningless chaos if structure is not re-established around evolving social frameworks. Mapping this idea onto The Incredibles implies the profundity underlying its narrative, but, I regret to say that it feels incomplete.

As is outlined by the producer, John Walker, in the Making Of for The Incredibles (which I recommend as it does give better insight into what we're about to talk about), each member of the family has superpowers that symbolise their inner struggles. This is what Walker explains:

Mum has got three kids and a husband who doesn't like his job. She has to STRETCH in a lot of different directions. Violet, this body-conscious young teenager, has got FORCE FIELDS and can turn INVISIBLE. Dash is your 10-year-old Ritalin kid, and he has SUPER SPEED. And Jack-Jack is a baby and is all just nothing but POSSIBILITY; we don't know what he can do yet.

I would add to this that Bob is the head of the family and so must have the strength to hold his family together, to protect and fend for them. And so what this sets up are very common problems in society that members of the average family all confront. But, with each member of the family learning how to both control their powers and be an effective cog in their familial system over the narrative, we have a further building of a commentary on society with superheroes not just being parents, but heads of super-families.

There is then an attempt towards resolution with Syndrome rising up to be the big baddie of this narrative. It is because, as a parent of society, Mr. Incredible neglected him that he developed into a problem, a 'syndrome, of society. This suggests that parents, like superheroes, have a responsibility to raise children correctly and ensure that they do not corrupt and break down society.

With that said, and with a brilliant management of further familial themes, it would seem like I'm setting up to say how brilliant of a movie The Incredibles is. The fact is that it is - both for the outlined and obvious reasons. However, there is a significant portion of this movie that is neglected: everything to do with the superheroes' relationship with the government; everything that stems from an initial act of 'teenage rebellion' with the plethora of law suites.

There is an implication within the Making Of for The Incredibles made by director, Brad Bird, that this was initially supposed to be a very different movie without Syndrome in it, one that focused on the mundane elements of this narrative as opposed to the fantastical ones. With the heavy focus on Syndrome in this plot, there isn't only introduced a whole lot of fatty material, but there is a weak commentary on society formed. Syndrome not only represents a bad kid grown up, but corruption at a governmental level masquerading as good that blindly believes it can restructure society around its own selfish agenda and get away with it, which leaves this film, in part, an incoherent critique of capitalism, governments, social change and aggression at a national scale.

What would have made The Incredibles so much better would be if the law suite plot line was re-introduced with the second act so that the incoherent elements of governmental critique could be better approached. In such, after Bob hits his boss, his cover should have been blown and his family taken to court, raising again a tension between superheroes and society. Simultaneous to this, the undercover hero work of Bob that finds its way into the narrative should remain, eventually sucking in the whole family and retaining all of the excellent moments of action where the kids learn to use their superpowers - and Syndrome could have been at the heart of that physical conflict without his links to governments. So, if there was a focus on the relationship between superheroes and a general population sustained throughout this narrative, I think it would have been something approaching a masterpiece. This is because its end resolution would have not only commented on the stabilisation of families, but the stabilisation of societies with a re-introduction of improved superheroes who do not live and act as if they were in the 60s - because, when we meet our main characters in the intro, they, like 1960s society, were quite faulted. Ultimately, The Incredibles would then be an answer of sort to Nietzsche's 'God Is Dead'.

So, whilst I think The Incredibles is a terrific piece of entertainment that begins to construct an astounding commentary on society and families like the best Disney films do, I am left a little disappointed by this movie. Maybe we'll see the missing ideas expanded upon in the up and coming Incredibles 2. But, I'll end by asking your thoughts on this movie and all we've discussed. I think there are more details to be explored within this narrative, so what do you think they are? And are you left disappointed by the elements it doesn't explore?

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