The LEGO Movie currently sits at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s amazing and I suggest you watch it immediately. Yes, it’s a movie about LEGO bricks and LEGO minifigures and it features a LEGO version of Batman but the movie is about a lot more than that and I’ll be referring to it often in the future.
Warning: HUMONGOUS spoilers ahead!
The movie is about a construction worker named Emmet Brickowski who finds the Piece of Resistance, therefore becoming the “Special” foretold in the prophecy. Along with a group of Master Builders he sets out to stop Lord Business from using the Kragle to make the world as he sees fit… and keep it that way forever.
We learn that things from the real world have somehow fallen into the LEGO world, one of them being the Kragle. The Kragle is actually just a clever way of referring to a tube of Krazy Glue that has had the z, y, and u rubbed off the label. You see, Lord Business wants to use the glue to keep every LEGO part in place, the way they are supposed to be, which also happens to be the way he prefers them. He can’t stand it when people don’t follow the instructions and just mix things up.
The Movie is Really About…
So let’s jump to the end of the film: Emmet sacrifices himself to save all of the Master Builders by falling out of Lord Business’ tower and finds himself leaving his universe and falling on… the floor?
This is when we learn that the story being played out in the film comes from the imagination of a little boy named Finn and Emmet’s universe exists entirely in Finn’s basement.
The most interesting revelation here is that Lord Business is a LEGO representation of Finn’s dad. And guess what? Finn’s dad loves LEGO! All of the LEGO sets we’ve seen so far are actually his and he put them together himself. He can’t stand it when Finn touches his masterpieces. He has signs up all over the basement reminding Finn (and everyone else) not to touch his stuff. In order to make sure that his LEGO sets are preserved the proper way, according to the instructions, he’s decided to use Krazy Glue.
A Communication Problem
It seems that Finn wants to put a cap on all of that Krazy Glue so his dad won’t “ruin” this huge and awesome LEGO collection.
Finn’s dad doesn’t want Finn to “ruin” his huge and awesome LEGO collection by taking it apart and rebuilding it the wrong way. He even gave Finn a box full of LEGO parts to play with so he won’t touch his!
It seems that they’ve had this argument before and they can’t see eye to eye. They obviously don’t understand each other. It’s almost like they are speaking two different languages…
A Common Language
Here is where play as language comes in. It isn’t until Finn’s dad sees that Lord Business, who just so happens to also be on a mission to Krazy Glue everything in the basement, is the bad guy. He is the bad guy according to Finn. He looks hurt when he realizes this but it also seems to be the first time he understands that this is a really big deal to his son. Something is happening here. So he plays along.
“What would Emmet say to Lord Business?” he asks Finn.
Finn answers the question as Emmet to Lord Businnes, not as Finn to his dad, and says a few things that he may not have been able to say otherwise.
Finn’s dad learns that his son isn’t trying to oppose him. He’s not trying to be a “bad kid” or be rebellious. Finn actually thinks his dad is really cool and interesting and has some of the most awesome toys ever. Finn just wants to play and he doesn’t understand why his dad won’t let him play with the best toys in the house. He doesn’t understand why his dad would give him a handful of old LEGO parts while all of those amazing sets are sitting a few feet away.
Finn probably thought his dad simply didn’t want to play with him or that he didn’t want to share his favorite things with him. Without a good explanation, dad just seems like an unreasonable, mean, all business and no play bad guy. At worst he might think his dad doesn’t love him.
Finn also seems afraid of his dad. When “the man upstairs” comes down the stairs the house seems to shake and Finn looks scared. He’s also 8 1/2 years old so it’s probably very difficult for him to express how he feels in words. But through play? Even his dad got the message loud and clear.
Play as language worked the other way around too.
Finn’s dad has been playing a certain way for years. He buys LEGO sets, probably has a lot of fun following the instructions, and I’m assuming he’s really proud of his work. A lot of people play that way. It’s fun. It’s fulfilling. It’s also just one way to play and Finn seems to understand that perfectly.
Emmet, the minifigure Finn has chosen to be the hero, his best best quality is perhaps that he is able to follow instructions, just like dad. Finn seems to respect and appreciate this quality in his father and even has Emmet express this to Lord Business. Finn seems to understand his father better than his dad understands him just by the way he plays.
Lord Business is the bad guy because he’s unable to do things any other way. He might even be a little happier if he were more flexible. Emmet is the triumphant hero because he uses both his ability to follow instructions and his creativity as a Master Builder to save the day.
The Language of Play
Through Finn’s play we can see that he is very insightful. He knows that everyone has something that makes them special. He knows that if you keep things bottled up inside you’ll eventually explode. He knows that sometimes you get defeated and you can build yourself up again, better than before, and try again. He knows that being all business and being creative both have redeeming qualities. He knows that if you are flexible in your beliefs you miss out on a lot less that if you are strict and extreme.
The LEGO Movie perfectly represents play not only as a language but as a powerful one. I use play in my work all the time as a way to understand my clients and help them understand each other in the case of families. There are many different ways to play so it is often difficult for people, especially parents, to understand how I effectively use play in my work. Sometimes people assume they are just paying to have their kids play video games, read comics, or play with toys for an hour. Some people believe that a session will be one hour of fun and no work or treatment will get done.
The next time someone asks me why I use play in my work I’m going to tell them them to watch The LEGO Movie and find out.