Monday, November 15, 2004

The Incredibles Directed by Brad Bird

This is my second review of The Incredibles. I wrote the first far enough in front of the release date that I was asked not to divulge plot/theme specifics. So, here's part II. As to be expected, don't read this if you haven't seen the film yet. My other review is quite safe for Incredible Virgins though. (incredible virgins?)

Brad Bird & Co. have a real gem on their hands with The Incredibles. Ignore the wonderful visuals, ignore the great set pieces, ignore the hilarious script, ignore the deftly facile way in which all these combine and your still left with…what? The trick is this: The Incredibles could be distilled into a non-animated chamber play and still work. It is a superb meditation on (among other things) the overwhelming and misguided cleverness of modern man, a film in the vein of Jacques Tati on the perils of invention.

As the film opens, the audience is placed in a 50’s world where cats need rescuing from trees, bad guys speak another language, and children still idolize people other than basketball stars and pop icons. Within this world live superheroes by the names of Mr. Incredible, Frozone, Elastigirl, Gazer Beam, et cetera. A series of frivolous lawsuits against the ‘supers’ occur, demanding the supers assume their secret identities forever. Naturally, the government steps in with the Superhero Relocation Program. Fifteen years later our superheroes are working stiffs – accountants, insurance salesmen, nurses. Mr. Incredible is petitioned by an obviously wealthy Mystery Man to resume his super-life. With vigor, Mr. Incredible accepts the offer. Only to find that he’s working for a madman whose mechanized inventions are intended for aid in making everybody in the world super, because, as this madman points out, if everyone is super then no one is. This is standard fare, really, with one important twist: invention.

Our judicial system is a great thing, or at least it was invented to be a great thing. Many would argue that the United States judicial system is now so full of loopholes that it often defeats its purpose. (This depends entirely on what you see its purpose as: to lock up the criminals or to protect the people. That’s another topic entirely though.) It’s a marvel of human ingenuity. And, in The Incredibles, it goes awry. The system, through the exploitation of frivolous lawsuits, forces the supers away, thus hurting the citizens more than helping them.

Fifteen years later, Bob Parr, nee Mr. Incredible, is working for an insurance company. The Corporation is a paradigm of both efficiency and ingenuity. Once again, gone awry. Now it is a bureaucracy, where its employees are dehumanized, its customers are seen as dollar signs, and the possibility of getting something accomplished is nil. Invention turned on its head.

Enter the villain: Syndrome. Syndrome creates robots. These robots kill. This is the equivalent of a metaphorical sledgehammer, and if you’ve been following me thus far, you know what the metaphor is.

The problem seems to be in the solution: the film ends, the supers are back, the robots are gone. One possible reading is that the answer is in the past. Human ingenuity is good and fine, but the real good times were in the 50’s when gas was pumped by hand, families ate every meal together, and dad came home at 5:00 every night. Rather than affecting the film negatively, this “solution” (and its rebuttals) only goes toward strengthening it. The fact is The Incredbiles is the first animated feature I’ve seen that can inspire a review, a conversation, any form of discourse as concerned as this. It not only withstands this type of probing observation, but also seems to thrive on it. Mine is not the only reading, there are several others out there of equal (or greater) validity. The whole point of this: go out, find someone you enjoy talking to, grab a cup of coffee, and discuss The Incredibles. You won’t be sorry.


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