The Lego Movie – Discussion
It’s a really clever movie. I could hear kids laughing all the way through, but what struck me was the obvious sound of adults laughing throughout the movie—laughing at the wit and the throwbacks to our own childhoods (rather than laughing at innuendos and dirty jokes that, as they laugh, they hope fly over their children’s heads, as you find in some “kids” movies). So it was fun and refreshing and fairly clean (not one sexual reference or innuendo—not one), but aside from the entertainment value, what excited me most was the insightful look into generational differences between a father and his millennially minded son.
I think the movie probably has good applications for father-son relationships in most generations, but in particularly connects with the differences between millennials and the older generations. This is actually important, not just for relationships with parents and their children, but also for the older generations at large as they work with millennials, in business, in the church, etc. Millennials don’t necessarily look at the world with the same lenses and the same values as their predecessors. And because the older generations don’t understand the way they see the world, they can easily become critical and dismissive. Millennials are leaving the church in droves, and it’s usually more about the different way they see the world, than a difference in theology.
I really recommend that you take time to read You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church, and Rethinking Faith, and visit the Barna group’s website, especially the millennial section. In the meanwhile, however, The Lego Movie isn’t a bad place to start thinking through some of the generational differences.
What Makes You Special?
A HUGE focus of the movie is this question of what makes a person special, and it ultimately comes down to two different philosophies. One group focuses on excellence as the key to significance, and the other focuses on creativity as the key. Lord Business represents the older generation. He imprisons all the master builders, the creative thinkers and designers. He wants uniformity and big, massive, excellent creations, all according to his step-by-step directions. He appears to be threatened by anyone’s creativity, as if he’s afraid anyone’s creations might make his empire look bad. His world is all about being impressive through excellence and perfection.
The Master Builders represent the millennial generation. They think outside the box. Batman likes black and dark grey and incorporates bats into all of his designs. Unikitty likes sparkles and rainbows and clouds and all things happy, whimsical and fun. She is content to create silliness because it makes her happy. Benny’s gig is spaceships. It doesn’t matter if a spaceship is required—he just likes to build spaceships. They each have their creative, unique bent.
Lord Business has no use for spaceships, or sparkles or batmobiles. What do they have to do with big business? With producing sky scrapers? He doesn’t have time or room in his world for people who don’t follow his directions, for people who take the pieces meant to make a building and, instead of following the step by step instructions for the building, create a spaceship, using only a hodge podge of those pieces. Those people make things messy. They complicate his life and his world.
This same dynamic is played out with a father and his son playing Legos together. Well—to be correct, they aren’t playing Legos together, because the father is like Lord Business, he doesn’t want his perfect creations to be messed up by his son’s awkward creations. The Dad has “do not touch” signs all over his Lego land. He bought the kits to make various buildings, followed the directions perfectly, and made these amazing structures. Every piece in its place. Excellence. Excellence that he would like to glue into place so its perfection is captured, unchanging, immoveable. He worked hard to get this just right.
His son, however, doesn’t care about the perfection, he wants to create, to have fun, to enjoy, to change and rebuild. He’s missing a few pieces? No worries. He creates a back-story about how the pirate lost his limbs and was rebuilt into a robo-cop-pirate-like-creation called MetalBeard.
The unfortunate result of these opposing ideologies is that his father has become the enemy. He doesn’t want his father to be the enemy, but without compromise, his father has created a “my-way-or-the-highway” scenario and made himself the enemy. Unfortunately – this very scenario is happening all over churches and families and businesses in America.
The Solution: Compromise and Value…And COMMUNICATION!!!
The solution for the Lego people came in the form of Emmet, a very ordinary, non-creative Lego construction man who had spent years learning the value of teamwork and excellence as he built Lord Business’ designs, according to direction. He had never thought about being creative. He was just trying to fit in, to be well-liked by his friends—so much so that he had no real idea of who he was. He had never had an original thought, and his one creative idea had been so laughed at that he had never again tried to create.
This uncreative, very obedient and responsible, by-the-book construction worker was the unlikely hero. It was discovered that he was the prophesied one, the one who would free them all from Lord Business’ tyranny. This prophecy gave him the confidence and the freedom to begin to think and create. It also allowed the master builders, the creative types, to see him in a different light. They would never have seen any value in someone who followed the rules, much less in someone who wasn’t creative like they were. But since there was a prophecy that he would be the greatest master builder of all, they saw him with different eyes, eyes of respect. They gave him the benefit of the doubt, they were patient with his mistakes, trusting that he would grow into this role the prophecy foretold.
In the end, Emmet began to show the creative types that, while their creativity was great, their fiercely independent nature was hurting them. They were unwilling to work together, or to do anything that seemed “uncreative” (i.e. to build anything that they didn’t create themselves, or that had been created before) –and there were times when following directions, doing something that had already been done and working together were necessary.
Emmet accomplished this without devaluing creativity. In fact, he also challenged the master builders to place a higher value on creativity. The truth was, the master builders were creative snobs. When Emmet built his double decker couch, they snubbed it and laughed at him. It’s true—Emmet’s design was not creative genius in the way that theirs were. The double-decker couch was simplistic and seemed useless in light of the life threatening situation they were in. How could something so benign save them in a battle with Lord Business? In a strange twist, however, it did. It was overlooked by Lord Business because it was so benign. So you see, creativity of all kinds was actually elevated, just as team work and repetition and excellence and following directions were.
Emmet may not have been extraordinary (or special) in a traditional way, but his genius came from his ordinariness. He may have been a “master of none” but he was more like a “jack of all trades”—and in that way, he was able to see value in all sides of the spectrum, and bridge the gap between them. He helped people see the value in their different ideas and abilities, and in so doing, he brought a working compromise, and victory.
For the man and his son, they arrived at much the same solution, but they got there a little differently. The father saw something in his son’s creations which gave him pause. I regret to say, I cannot remember what it was that sparked that turning point, but I do remember that it made him begin to ask questions. Asking questions is a big thing for the millennials. It means that they have a voice—ideas and opinions –that you value. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but hearing what they say in the first place is an important thing for the millennials (as it is for most of us).
As he asked, things began to surface—things like pain and misunderstanding, on both sides. Interestingly enough, part of what surfaces is the dad’s pain form his own childhood—his unmet need to feel special. Along with that was either judgment or jealousy of how his son has it so differently. “We didn’t get trophies just for showing up!” the dad almost cries. He’s right, the older generations were raised differently. Their sense of worth was shaped differently, their work ethic, their values…all of it was approached differently. As they talked, the dad began to see that he had become the villain in his son’s eyes. He began to see how he had hurt his son, squashed him, criticized him, not valued him or his contributions.
Once the dad begins to allow that dialogue to flow between himself and his son, the most beautiful thing happens: the son extends grace. His dad, cleverly called “the man upstairs,” asks, “If the construction guy said something to President Business, what would he say?” The son replies, almost pleads, with such love and grace and longing, “You don’t have to be the bad guy. You are the most talented, most interesting, most special guy in the universe. You are the Special. And so am I.” The son gets to tell his dad (the very dad who has been struggling to prove his worth, his “specialness,” to himself and his family and the world), through the medium of their Lego play, that in HIS eyes and opinion, his dad is the MOST special, most creative, most talented, most amazing person in the world.
What parent doesn’t want to hear that from their child? The dad had been trying to prove his worth to his son, and his son didn’t need to be impressed—he already was; his dad was his hero!—he just wanted to be included. They agreed to play together, and to invite the baby sister to play as well. Legoland would become a place for both the dad’s follow-the-instructions style, and the son and daughter’s creative style to work together. They began to see value in their different approaches, and that value led to a beautiful harmony.
It’s an easy solution in a movie. It’s not so easy when it’s in your church, in your worship team, your youth group, your family, your business… It can be hard to learn to value someone else’s strengths, but it’s far more difficult for two parties who have fairly opposite values (not just strengths) to come together. If everyone values excellence, but some are more creative and others more administrative, that’s not as hard to work together. You have different strengths, but you ultimately value the same thing and just need to find out how to get to that common goal among your varying approaches.
When your values are different, however, it’s a much greater challenge. You don’t even have the same goal in mind, so who cares how different your approaches may be?! So the first thing you have to do is find out what everyone values, then search for a common goal, then begin to find a way to work together to reach it. In the movie, the common goal for the father and son became their relationship (for the Lego people it was not being destroyed by Lord Business). The common goal is key—you have to be working towards something that is greater than you if you are ever going to be willing to set aside your differences.
The only way to find out what your common goals are is to start that dialogue. In your families, your churches, whatever it may be, someone has to be willing to ask, “If the construction guy said something to President Business, what would he say?” It’s a hard question, because you have to be willing to hear the answer. You have to be willing to hear a millennial say that they don’t feel like you value them, or that you act like their enemy, or that you squash everything that matters to them and that makes them who they are. It takes courage to ask the question and to hear the answer, but it also takes great courage to answer the question honestly. That son had to risk a lot of rejection from the most special person in his world. He had to open his heart, extend grace and love, and risk vulnerability and criticism. It was risky for them both, but the rewards were worth it.
Instead of criticizing the millennials (or any generation) get to know them. It’s not that they don’t have values, it’s that they don’t value what you value. One thing the millennials do value is relationships. That brave son risked everything because he valued a relationship with his father. Emmet’s whole existence was centered on trying to have better relationships with others, even with “his enemy,” Lord Business. Millennials are generally compassionate, full of grace and understanding. That’s why it hurts them so much when they feel that older generations judge and misunderstand them. It’s a personal attack, but it’s also an attack on one of their highest values. Conversely, this is also why our efforts to communicate and get to know them and see the good in them will carry so much weight. It validates them as a person in an area they hold with the most esteem.
Questions for Discussion
- What things did Lord Business value?
- What things did the master builders value?
- Why were the master builders and Lord Business at war?
- Why did the son see his father as the enemy?
- Did the son want his father to be the enemy?
- Why do you think the dad didn’t want his son to play in his Lego area?
- What did it take for the son and father to work out their differences?
- What did it take for the Lego people to work out their differences?
- Why was Emmet a disappointment to the master builders?
- How was Emmet a hero? In what ways was Emmet heroic?
- In what ways did the different characters grow and mature? Emmet, WyldStyle, Lord Business, the son, the father…
- How do you think this movie typified relationship dynamics between millennials and the older generations?
- How do you think this movie typified relationship dynamics in your family?
If you would like to learn more about the millennial generation, especially in regards to how they relate to the church, come to the Verso Workshop! If you can’t make the workshop, be on the lookout for our resource guide that will be produced after the workshop. Also, You Lost Me is an invaluable read.
 Technically the son may be younger than a millennial, but his ideas and values are very much in line with the millennial generation.