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The Incredibles

The folks at Pixar have given us just the thing to sooth over post-election disagreements over moral values: A film about a bourgeois family of superheroes.
The Incredibles is a film for the entire family – be it from a red or blue state – and you won’t find any disturbing scenes involving gay marriage, talk about an unfair tax cut that favors the rich, or debate over an unjust war in Iraq. Glum Democrats and elated Republicans can both share in the safe pleasure of watching computer-generated figures fight against the forces of evil.
It’s a pleasant relief to get time off from politics and enjoy this film about how an evil little tyrant tries to misrepresent himself to gain favor with the public. Syndrome (Jason Lee) grew up desperately wanting the attention and adoration of the world. As an adult he becomes a major weapons manufacturer and designs a suit that gives him the appearance of imperviousness.
The heroes of the world have been forced into the closet or have disappeared mysteriously, so Syndrome is the only super-powered human in the world. You would think this would fill the little Texan, er, I mean tyrant with confidence, but he is insatiably power mad.
In a stoke of cynical marketing genius Syndrome creates a robot to frighten the public, hoping they will turn to him in their panic. When the creature that he’s created invades New York, Syndrome reveals himself as a hero to them, promising to protect them as a moral and just ruler. In reality, however, he has consolidated power by eliminating the other superheroes, sold weapons technology to foreign nations, and bankrolled his own security for many years to come.
But not everyone is fooled by Syndrome. A family in the suburbs rises up against the villain in a kind of middle-class revolt. Although Syndrome believed he had eliminated all superheroes, the Parr family has been spared because they’ve been in hiding, just trying to get by as they economy squeezed them.
The dad, Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) has been forced to take a McJob in a large insurance company. Once a powerful superhero known as Mr. Incredible, he now slumps in his chair while mouthing company rhetoric that screws the elderly and poor. Like the man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Par feels alienated from the American Dream, forced into tight suits, small offices, and tiny cars.
His wife (once a superhero called Elastigirl, voiced by Holly Hunter) has given up her career to bring their children up in a traditional setting, but she has a nagging feeling that they’re not living an authentic life. Bob goes out with his black friend and doesn’t return until the wee hours of the morning, daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) has become a wallflower lacking a powerful female role model, son Dashiell (Spencer Fox) has a problem with authority figures at school, and baby Jack Jack (Eli Fucile, Maeve Andrews) hasn’t said so much as a word.
Their middle-class life is a sham, and they must hide their best parts from the world and pretend that they’re happy serving their corporate masters as big business crushes them, reaping the benefits of an unfair tax code. Um, excuse me…
The family reveals their superpowers when faced with Syndrome’s hypocrisy. They reject the faux freedoms allowed them and break free from the trappings of bourgeois culture. Bob taps into his inner strength, finding a resolve he didn’t even know he had, his wife learns the true power of flexibility and becomes the powerful parental figure she always was, Violet learns to be more than invisible – to be a force onto herself, to be confident of her power as a young female – and Dashiell discovers that he doesn’t have to hide his true self.
In rejecting the artificial mandate imposed by Syndrome, the Parrs learn the true value of family and discover that with great power comes great responsibility. They come together, showing the power of difference and accepting one another, not as idealized prototypical examples of the nuclear family, but as real, living human beings. They learn to love one another for what they are and not to impose their own moral beliefs on others, regardless of how certain these principles are.
In electing to stand on the founding principles of this country – individual rights, respect for difference, separation of church and state – The Incredibles offers an exemplary example of civic duty to all of us. Amen.

 

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