Lord and President Business: Lego Movie Perpetuates Crony-Capitalism Contradiction
NB: this review necessarily contains extensive spoilers.
For a movie about plastic bricks, The Lego Movie is surprisingly fun — and funny. Seeing all those Lego bricks on the big screen is a panacea of nostalgia for anyone who has ever experienced the tedious frustration of sifting through a brick pile on a Saturday morning, struggling to find just the right brick to finish whatever it was you were building.
The film currently has a staggering 96 percent “fresh” rating from critics on RottenTomatoes.com, and viewers have agreed through their wallets at the box office. After surpassing its budget of US$60 million by $9 million on opening weekend, the film has gone on to gross $183 million as of February 21.
Lego, the toy company, represents the best of the free market. Anyone can make a plastic brick, but Lego does it best, and the market rewards them for it. Their unique products inspire creative thinking and free thought in children and adults alike, so it is no surprise that The Lego Movie builds on those themes.
Unfortunately, the film is tinged with a layer of hypocrisy more intricate than the instruction guide to a Lego castle. The Lego Movie may just be a movie for children about toys, but it is making an impact (even if only subliminal) on impressionable minds — young and adult alike.
Will Farrell is the voice of evil in the Lego Universe. His character is interchangeably called “President Business” and “Lord Business.” He is, simultaneously, both the ruler of the Lego universe and the president of all corporations depicted in the film.
The contradiction is that this character doesn’t represent business in any capitalist or free market sense. Despite the misnomer of “President Business,” Farrell is actually lending his voice to de facto fascism, or — at best — crony capitalism.
Lord Business has created a dystopia reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984, in which citizens mindlessly follow instruction manuals and orders. His alter ego, President Business, has created the worst kind of crass consumerist society, where the citizens of Lego universe engage in repetitive and banal activities. In this world, citizens tune-in to the same vapid sitcom every day (in which a man misplacing his pants is always the punchline), gleefully pay $40 for a cup of coffee, and the all-too-bubbly song “Everything is Awesome” is endlessly on repeat.
Viewers are led to believe that this is the world of capitalism at its worst. In actuality, however, it is more akin to the kind of faux-democracy, crumbling under the terrible weight of totalitarian socialism that we are now witnessing in Venezuela.
A $40 coffee somehow isn’t as humorous in Venezuela, where inflation may be as high as 300 percent. In a free market, competition keeps the price of coffee down.
The Lego Movie also suggests a world in which the public only watches a single TV show, reminiscent of the way Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolás Maduro, has attempted to gain a tighter control of the media by banning CNN reporters from the country last week.
Later on in the film, we learn that a small group of “master builders” have escaped to an isolated location (much like Gault’s Gulch in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged), where they are free from the control of Lord Business. Like Winston Smith in 1984, the protagonist in The Lego Movie, Emmett, (mistakenly assumed to be a messianic “most extraordinary person”) must learn to free himself from the mindlessness of the totalitarian society created by President Business. Emmet must do this to free the land from oppressive control, unleash creativity, and allow the people of the LEGO universe to engage in the free exchange of ideas.
US economist, statistician, and writer, Milton Friedman observed that, “underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.” In the movie, President Business epitomizes this way of thinking, as he tries to freeze the entire Lego universe using “Kragle” (Crazy Glue) as a diabolical way of controlling the public and preventing the unpredictability of creative minds.
Rename Lord Business to “Big brother,” “Fidel Castro,” or “Nicolás Maduro,” and suddenly this 100 minute feature film about plastic blocks makes a lot more sense.