I read where someone said that, “the LEGO movies shouldn’t work…but they do.” It’s true. They work. They are intelligently and relentlessly funny (although at times inappropriately so for a kid’s movie, like when Robin says, “My name’s Richard but sometimes the kids at school call me Dick” and Batman replies, “Kids can be cruel”). They also tackle some pretty deep themes. (Check out our discussion of the first LEGO movie, here, which deals with generational issues and a son trying to live up to his Dad’s standard of perfection.) The overly cynical, egotistical, narcissistic Batman was such a hit in the first movie, he gets his own feature film this time. And in it, the themes are what you might expect, vulnerability, the things that define us/identity, trying to get your parents approval, dealing with the pain in your past and running from the pain in your past, isolation, trying to do things on your own, what makes someone a good or bad guy (sometimes it’s not so clear), etc., etc., etc. I’m not sure how much your five-year-old will glean from the messages in this movie, but you just might be touched…and challenged.
As we know, Batman was shaped by seeing the death of his parents as a young boy. He becomes a very conflicted hero, a dark knight who works alone (save Alfred). LEGO plays up those themes and explores them. He says, “Batman doesn’t do ‘ships’—relationships. … There is no ‘us’. You mean nothing to me. No one does.” He tells that to his nemesis, though, the person he is arguably closest to, arguably in a relationship of sorts with. He comes in at night after saving the city, looks at pictures of his parents and talks to them, “Hey mom, hey dad, I uh…I saved the city again today. I wish you could’ve seen me.” He says he wants to be alone, but comes in every night crying out for connection, approval and love. He is lonely but defensive. He is egotistical but insecure. The things that drove him to greatness and achievement are also the very things which are keeping him from achieving it. In other words, he’s just like us.
The young orphan who becomes “Robin” ends up (through no wish of Batman’s) becoming his foster child. It’s this young, unflappable, buoyant and happy boy (think Unsinkable Molly Brown) who breaks through Batman’s defenses and helps him love again, teaches him how to be part of a team and helps him heal.
Here are 14 life lessons from the movie:
- Batman quotes a line from Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” song, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look in the mirror and change yourself.” It’s always a good place to start, especially in our victim mentality culture, to realize that we have some power to change ourselves first and foremost, and to realize the power we have to impact the world. If it seems too hard to change yourself, the good news is that we have the Holy Spirit who works IN us, who changes us and makes us more like Jesus, if we let Him.
- In the opening scene, the Joker tells a pilot that he should be scared. “Why should I be?” the pilot wonders. “Because I’m going to take over the city.” The pilot quickly and confidently responds. “No, you’re not—Batman always stops you.” THIS is the confidence we have in Jesus. The enemy is constantly telling us we should be afraid because he’s about to do something… but we who know Jesus can respond every bit as confidently and quickly, “No you’re not. Jesus always stops you. You’re a liar and you’ve already lost.” Furthermore, “we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him” (1 John 5:14). Not only that, but we know there is no reason for fear when there is the love of God. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).
- In a rather hilarious ongoing joke, Batman and the Joker argue about being in a relationship. The Joker is convinced he’s Batman’s nemesis, his number one bad guy. Commitment phobic Batman refuses to acknowledge their “relationship”. “Batman doesn’t do ‘ships’—relationships. … There is no ‘us’. You mean nothing to me. No one does.” “I don’t currently have a bad guy. I’m fighting lots of bad guys. I’m fighting around.” The thing is, sometimes we get our identity from who we are fighting or who we are against, rather than who we are with and for. Sometimes we let the negatives in our lives define us. It’s always better to be defined by love than by hate, by relationships than by conflict. No matter how fierce His battle with Satan, Jesus always identified Himself by his relationship to the Father, never by His fight with the enemy. Lots of people know what they are against, but not everyone knows what they are for.
- As the Batman/Joker gag continues, the Joker later says, “Do you realize, [in all these years], you’ve never once said, ‘I hate you, Joker.’? Listen to this, ‘I hate you, Batman.’ Now your turn.” Batman, like so many men who can’t be vulnerable ducks the whole thing by saying, “Me too” instead. It’s funny (although I think plenty of parents may take some issue with the whole idea of a kid’s movie saying “I hate you”—especially making such a focal point). It draws attention to both the fact that many people have a hard time being vulnerable and saying things that are affectionate, AND the fact that sometimes hate and love are (very nearly at least) the same thing. The opposite of love is not hate; it’s apathy. It’s not caring at all. Hate’s a strong, passionate emotion and it’s hard to feel hate for someone you don’t care about in the first place. Hate is usually what you feel for someone you love.
- The Joker gets fed up with Batman’s lack of commitment. “I am not going to be part of a one-sided relationship any longer. I’m moving out, and on the way, I’m going to blow up Gotham.” Again, let’s ignore the “moving out reference” that is a bit inappropriate for a kid’s movie, and instead let me point out that sometimes we do need to protect ourselves and move on. It’s good to believe in people. It’s good to be patient with each other’s growth. It’s also good to recognize that we can’t change anyone and to know when it’s time to leave them in God’s hands and move on. Our hearts are a gift and sometimes we are trying desperately to give them to someone who may need that gift, but doesn’t want that gift. This is basically the advice Jesus was giving the disciples when He told them, “If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10:14).
- No matter how old you get, or how successful, there is always a part of you that is searching for approval from your parents. After a day saving the city, a fully grown Batman comes home, walks over to the pictures of his dead mom and dad and says, “Hey mom, hey dad, I uh…I saved the city again today. I wish you could’ve seen me.” That is so painfully honest. The great news for Christians is that God LOVES us long before there is anything admirable or worthy in us and we never have to earn approval with Him. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
- Robin says, “All I want is to be adopted so I can stop being alone.” He finds himself in Batman’s home, still very much alone. Having a father, a husband, a wife, a child, a nemesis… all these relationships that we think will cure our loneliness don’t necessarily cure our loneliness. There is a worse kind of loneliness than being alone, it’s feeling alone in a relationship. The cure for loneliness is, first and foremost, a relationship with Jesus.
- Barbara Gordon tells Batman, “It’s called, ‘It takes a village not a Batman’.” We all want to be the hero, to be the sole hero, but, fortunately for us, it takes a village. God puts us in community for a reason. (Note that even God, Himself, lives in a community of three.) Few of us are humble enough to be the hero on our own without becoming narcissistic. We need to need others, simply so we don’t become impossible egomaniacs. We also need to need others so that we are forced into a community, so that we aren’t lonely. Consider Batman—he was doing things OK on his own, but it was to his benefit that the problems became too great to fight alone. In learning to let others into the battle with him, he became much more humble, far less lonely, and much more successful. It’s for our own good that our battles are too big for us to fight on our own. “Though one can be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
- Batman’s happiness index chart showed that his happiness declines as “hours without crime” increases. His happiness was directly proportionate to how engaged he was in a fight. On the one hand, I would say it’s not ideal when your happiness is dependent on bad things happening to others. On the other, I realize Batman’s happiness wasn’t about crime (the unfortunate effect of which is that bad things are happening to people), but the fact that he’s a warrior who needed a battle to fight. This is reality. Some people are just warriors. The trick is to get them fighting worthwhile fights. A warrior without a battle to fight just becomes combative, divisive and difficult in everyday life. Warriors need battles. They just do.
- Poor Alfred. Batman assumes Alfred has no higher ambition and no greater joy in life than to serve him. “Listen, you don’t have a family. You’re satisfied serving me, Alfred.” Isn’t this how kids feel about their parents? Perhaps Alfred’s joy in serving Batman was partly about loving Batman, but also partly about making a difference in the world. It’s a great opportunity to discuss with kids their perception of their parents’ job and joy in life. Serving your kids may bring satisfaction, but it’s probably good for kids to see that their parents have other sources of meaning and satisfaction in life as well.
- Perspective is everything. Robin says, “Does Batman live in Bruce Wayne’s basement?” Batman with his characteristic narcissism replies, “No. Bruce Wayne lives in Batman’s attic.” Glass half empty or half full? Perspective makes all the difference. One of my favorite illustrations about perspective is when Joseph tells his brothers, the ones who had tried to kill him, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). He sees things from the world’s perspective, his brothers wanted to kill him, but then, he also sees it from God’s perspective, how their actions were used for his good and the good of many nations. As Paul writes, we ought to have the perspective that God can work all things out for good (Romans 8:28).
- Barbara calls out Batman on his selfishness. “You can’t be a hero if you only care about yourself.” That may seem extreme, but true acts of heroism come from a place of love for others, not a place of impressing others.
- Phyllis (the scanner in the sky) points out the complicated mess that Batman, and most of us humans, really are. “Huh, you’re not a traditional bad guy, but you’re not exactly a good guy, either.” We so want our good guys in white and our bad guys in black, all nice and neat with clean lines. However, we know that’s not reality, and so the world loves Batman. He’s us. He’s our complicated reality of good actions, bad motives, wrong motives and good results. He’s messy, but isn’t that honest, too? Thank God for Jesus, He’s not a messy, complicated hero. He’s purely good. In every way. And yet, thank God also that he has grace and understanding for our complicated mess. “Search me and know me,” we want to say with the Psalmist. “Show me any offensive way in me” (Psalm 139:23). We have to ask Him to, because we are too messy, too complicated, and too dishonest with ourselves to see the truth unless He does.
- Batman confesses that the reason he pushed everyone away is that “I was afraid of feeling the pain you feel when you lose someone close to you.” The way we treat others is always more about us than it is about them. Loving people love others. Hurting people hurt others. When Batman pushed Robin and Barbara and Alfred (and even the Joker) away, it had nothing to them; it had everything to do with him and his desire to avoid pain and loss. This is why Jesus had to love us, first. And it’s why we are able to love Him back. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, emphasis added). His love heals us and enables us to be loving in response.