Many popular culture texts show major influences from psychoanalysis, sometimes not in the most obvious ways. A text that proves to be a fine example of this is Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s The Lego Movie. The 2014 animated feature film seems to be geared towards children with its goofy comedy and the usage of plastic children’s toys as the main characters, an all-around entertaining movie seemingly without deeper meaning. Further scholarly inspection shows that despite merely being plastic figures, the characters in The Lego Movie provide a premium example of some of the psychoanalytical aspects surrounding issues of representation and subjectivization.
I know, I know. You’re thinking that this hilarious children’s movie doesn’t really seem that complex, it’s just a classic story of a guy who goes zero to hero. Some would even argue that they didn’t really notice any issues of representation. To those people, I encourage you to consider the words of Sean Nixon when he claims that “specific discourse can work upon you – can subject you – without necessarily winning you over in your head” (Nixon 312). In simpler terms, just because you may not immediately realize some of the representation and subjectivization issues occurring in a text does not mean that they do not exist.
To be able to understand the psychoanalysis of what’s going on between viewers and The Lego Movie, one must have a fairly basic grasp of some concepts discussed by Sean Nixon. The first and arguably most important of these concepts is identification. Nixon defines identification as involving some projection based on a similarity between the individual and an external person. In the aforementioned film, the identification is fairly similar, as most of these characters resemble regular humans. Emmet, for example, looks just about as normal as any other character I have encountered in cinema, making him easy for many people to relate to and identify with. On a further level, Emmett also has a very identifiable personality. For the most part (potentially due to movies like this one), people believe they have the ability to be the hero, or in Emmet’s case, the special. This makes Emmet not only immediately relatable on a physical level despite being a plastic toy, but even easier to identify with the more the viewer gets to know him.
A second Freudian concept discussed by Nixon is scopophilia. Simply put, scopophilia is the pleasure in looking. This concept is easily linked with another concept called narcissism, which is defined as a fascination with the human form. Now, the narcissism is evident in the movie, not even at fault of the directors or producers. The narcissism goes all the way to Lego itself, as they created their toys in the image of humans, proving their narcissism. The questionable concept when it comes to The Lego Movie would have to be scopophilia. How could anybody possibly find pleasure in looking at a Lego? It’s merely a plastic toy that resembles a human. The key is right there – they resemble humans. This makes it possible for this script to not only create scopophilia, but to also create some issues in representation.
To quote the Nixon reading, “The pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female” (Nixon 314). In other words, male characters are generally “the bearer of the look,” or the active eye of the text. While this goes on, female characters are constantly positioned as a visual spectacle, or something to be looked at. Take the female lead (and basically the only female character) in The Lego Movie, Wild Style. In her earliest scenes in the movie, she is hooded and running around, making her look like a male character, with Emmet even referring to her as “sir.” Once she does finally remove her hood, the camera begins to roll slow motion and portrays her in a romantic way, similar to the way many women are portrayed in cinema as an object to be admired. Again, with these being plastic figures, it clearly raises the question of how these emotions could be evoked in viewers. With the combination of the identification with the narcisstically human shaped plastic figures and the work of the animation to portray Wild Style as an object to be viewed, it is easy for someone viewing this text to feel this way, as it appears that it was purposefully done, showing that these plastic characters are powerful examples of representation issues.
In all, with just some quick reading into psychoanalysis, it can be easy to see that The Lego Movie provides a premium example of representation issues in popular culture. With an understanding of identification, scopophilia, narcissism, and spectatorship, these representation issues become quite apparent in this popular children’s movie. This movie is not the only cinematic text that shows these issues, it is merely an unexpected example of what many films do. As Nixon eloquently put it, “Representational conventions of narrative cinema and its organization of spectatorship reproduce the terms of sexual difference and the power relations between men and women” (Nixon 315). In short, The Lego Movie shows off our cinematic society’s issues with gender representation, despite featuring plastic toy characters.
Nixon, Sean. “Representations.” N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2016.
The Lego Movie. Warner Brothers, 2014. DVD.