If you’ve waited 14 years to see the sequel to the incredible The Incredibles, then it looks like you’re not going to be disappointed.
Rather than having a bunch of late teens/early twenties running the show a decade and a half later, with Bob Parr (Mr Incredible) and his wife Helen (Elastigirl) biding their time waiting for the retirement village, the sequel kicks off where the last one began. And good thing too. The aesthetic of the first movie was delightful – a modernist pastiche that spoke of an earlier, more innocent time.
Well, in a sense the new movie kicks off in the same place. For while everything looks the same, everything has changed.
For, as the trailer reveals, the issues that the new movie is dealing with are very “now”. Bob is taking a back seat and looking after the family. Elastigirl takes the superhero/aka worker lead in this one, aligning herself with the likes of Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games, a hero for my daughter when in her early teens.
You gotta feel for Bob. In round one his frustration was a dead end job. In round two his frustration is likely to be the bewildering grind of looking after the home front, when he’s simply not up to domestic heroism. Or is he? We shall see.
But you can hear the frantic in him when he says, in that voice that’s akin to Homer Simpson’s in terms of its “everyman” quality:
“I’ve got to succeed, so she can succeed, so we can succeed,”
It’s a beautiful line. It’s about him, about her, about them as a family. And that’s the real pressure in our modern culture; keeping it all together for the sake of all of you. Let the ideologues reduce life to deep autonomy and personal happiness. The average middle class family is always about one month away from financial spiral and will do almost anything to ensure that crash and burn is avoided. Anything. Think about that when your head hits the pillow tonight.
And that’s a lot of pressure to put on a guy who only knows one way of doing things. And Helen’s success seems more likely than his, at least as far as the trailer makes out. Which is bound to put even more pressure on him. If he fails, she will turn and look at him with a mixture of sorrow and despair.
It sounds like there will be complexity in this movie, and I hope there will be. It sounds like there will be that complex angst that the McAlpine family feels when Jill is racing off in one direction to work in a high pressured mental health role, with me dashing off with kids to two separate schools and then on to a meeting in the other direction, and neither of us quite sure who is getting home first.
You can persuade my wife all you like that her anxiety at not being around as much as she could be is merely a direct result of patriarchal systems or whatever, and nothing whatsoever to do with mothering instincts. She will, in all likelihood, look you coolly in the face and suggest booking yourself in for a session or three at her clinic.
I hope The Incredibles 2 shows Bob having some fun raising Jack-Jack while Helen is out fending off bad guys (a perennial problem for women in the workplace it seems). I know I did. Having spent several years being the stay-at-home dad, and pretty much Jill and I doing a fifty-fifty split to this day, I want to affirm the worth of the family home, and the value of just being around a lot, not for any other ostensible reason than for being around.
I have spent more time away from home interstate speaking at things this past two years than ever before, and prior to this happening, it was always something I thought I would look forward to doing. I have discovered I hate being away from home. I always feel on edge, fractured and incomplete.
I want to affirm that the family is the strongest mediating institution; that it comes before government, and that government should neither seek to define it, or convince itself that it knows better than the family. Hence I also want to affirm that men who take this truth seriously, should know better than to believe the lie on the company wall “The Firm Comes First”.
What I loved about the original movie was just how much it honoured the pressure that the modern family finds itself under. It championed all of the relationships and showed no one as a buffoon, or simply out for themselves.
The individual and corporate pressure the Parrs faced was real, but at no point did the movie resort to preaching at us; becoming a progressive sermon in that dreadful way movies such as Zootopia did (we left the theatre after that and my daughter groaned, “Please don’t let this fall into the hands of English Lit teachers”).Simply put the original took its audience seriously.
I hope that’s the way the sequel takes things too, despite the huge shifts and churns of culture over the past 14 years in our own culture, which seems determined to descend to the very depths of relational, spiritual and sexual fracturing as identity politics takes its poisonous bite out of us. What I loved about the first movie was the sheer teamwork required by a family to make it in the modern world, and the manner in which it honoured that.
So I hope too that the sequel honours actual people in their actual lives with all their actual variances, rather than slogans and campaigns. I hope it does not descend, because it if does it will not simply not be incredible, it will cease to be credible at all.
What I loved most of all about the first movie, and I long to see in the second, was how a narrative that honours the complexity of life is far more effective in moving people to change than any number of slogans, rants, Facebook posts or tweets.
And in light of that Christian culture needs to think long and hard about how it employs aesthetics to promote its ethics. It’s fair to say that one of the reasons the Christian framework has taken a beating in the culture is that it has done a poor job at emotional and aesthetic persuasion of its ethic.
I suspect The Incredibles 2 will be loved, even as the first one was, by those who perhaps don’t buy the cultural narrative it espouses, but who see love, humanity and purpose worked out in surprising and touching, ordinary ways. Because it’s the sheer ordinariness of being a human – super or not – that makes it so incredible.