Okay, this movie’s been out long enough for me to have seen it three times in theaters. I figure it’s high time I say a few words about it, as it turns out I have a lot of feelings about this flick. Warning: the following is very spoilery, highly personal, and only thematically related to the movie itself.
Rightly or wrongly, many have named my generation the “self-esteem” generation. Millennials are sensitive, self-absorbed, and in constant need of coddling and praise in order to function. Like any reasonable person, I’m aware of the negative impact of showering someone with excessive praise. The baddie of The Lego Movie—Lord Business—speaks to this idea during his sneering confrontation of the protagonist, Emmet (who has been designated as the Special—the one destined to save the world). “No one ever told me I was special!” Lord Business scoffs. “I never got a trophy just for showing up!” Lord Business rightfully addresses the absurdity of excessive praise, but he also cuts to the heart of why external affirmation is so important.
In a pivotal scene near the film’s end, Vitruvius (a wizard and mentor figure voiced by Morgan Freeman) tells Emmet that he wasn’t chosen by some ancient prophecy (in fact, Vitruvius made all that up). All Emmet needed to be the Special was to believe that he was the Special (it’s worth noting that the film is too self-aware to let such a hackneyed piece of advice go unaddressed; Vitruvius admits that this advice “sounds like a cat poster”).
Rather than feeling immediately empowered by Vitruvius’ revelation, Emmet finds himself at a loss. “How can I just believe that I’m special,” he asks helplessly, “when I’m not?”
Emmet’s response struck a chord with me. At some point or another, we’ve all had this feeling. We’ve seen others outperform us, we’ve failed at something that we’ve given our all, or we’ve just felt unsatisfied with ourselves. There are times when, no matter how hard we try, we cannot see our own potential. Oftentimes, we need an outside observer to see the good qualities in ourselves that we’d otherwise discount or overlook.
In his final showdown with Lord Business, Emmet finally understands Vitruvius’ revelation and what it means to be the Special. He repeats the words of the prophecy back to Lord Business.
“You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe,” Emmet tells him. “And you are capable of amazing things. Because you are the Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true. It’s about all of us. Right now, it’s about you.”
I could go into how this moment in the film spoke to me really personally, but I’ll probably start crying and no one needs to see that. What I would like to touch on is how the film speaks to the importance of vocalizing good qualities in others, and the dramatically positive impact this simple act can have.
We’ve all experienced how words can hurt or heal us. Not long ago, I found myself deeply sad without knowing why I was sad, and that experience left me doubting the validity of my feelings. How could I justify feeling this way when I had nothing solid to base them on? Having feelings that were baseless made me feel worse about having those feelings. I felt that I didn’t deserve them.
I brought this up to some friends and they immediately shut down that way of thinking. “Your feelings are valid because they are YOURS,” they told me. I was amazed to find that, just like that, I was healed. Those words were exactly what I needed to hear, and they helped me move forward from a period of emotional uncertainty and self-doubt.
The final confrontation between Emmet and Lord Business is a perfect example of how words can heal and instigate personal growth. Emmet tells Lord Business exactly what he needs to hear—something he’s needed to hear for a long time—and bridges the ideological gap between them. It’s Emmet’s words that help Lord Business realize that he is just as capable of greatness as anyone else.
I believe that’s what’s at the heart of the “self-esteem” generation: the idea that great people and great ideas can come from anywhere—and that sometimes, we need others to recognize that greatness in us before we can recognize it in ourselves. So thanks, movie, for being clever, heartfelt, and thought-provoking—in other words, better than any movie bearing the title “The Lego Movie” has any right to be.
(Everything is awesome.)