The Lego Movie: Are We Lego, Or Are We Meta-Lego?

Overthinking the surprise smash hit of the year:

Will-and-Emmetby fenzel

When you build a house out of Legos, there’s a point where it goes from being “a bunch of blocks” to being “a house.” This isn’t quite when it’s finished — but before that, when the walls and maybe a bit of the roof has started to take shape. Your view of it naturally changes and expands to consider it in a new way.

And yet, as much of a “house” as it becomes, the “Lego-ness” of any such project is apparent from those trademarked studs and certain qualities of shape and texture. It never leaves, and is still there when you look for it.

While considering a Lego object, then, it is possible to “zoom in” and “zoom out” — to think of it as a combination of Lego bricks, or as an object in itself, or in the larger context of what is going on around it.

Taking derivatives and integrals in calculus is similar — you can zoom in on, say, a movement with respect to its rate of change, or pull back on, say, a path that forms the edge of a shape for a wider view of the total area or volume it encompasses — in each case, there are qualities that exist on levels, that are at once always already present, but can be seen better by manipulating what you’re looking at — and that can be explored in either direction once you know the patterns to look for

You cannot differentiate an equation to find velocity, and then integrate that same to find density. At least not except in a very specific sort of example you set up just to make fun of this article (leave it in the comments).

Stories work like this. A lot. You can zoom in a story in many of respects, and zoom out on just as many. And sometimes, of course, stories do it to themselves. Newer stories tend to do it more often than older ones. Community does it constantly.

But we’re here to talk about The Lego Movie, which sports a giant “zoom out” that changes everything — and nothing, at the same time.

Emmet’s Fall Out of the World

When little Lego Emmet plunges to his doom out the window of President Business’s skyscraper, he wakes to a bizarre new reality. He sees the giant human boy responsible, apparently, for most of the events of his life, and the father whose actions are being interpreted in the story of President Business and the Kragle. He even hears the call for the real “Taco Tuesday.”

All in all, it’s delightful. Unexpected, fun, smart — it’s a bit commercial-ish, but it’s a great place for the movie to go. Legos are about building your own toys and settings, therefore a movie about Legos should be about building your own story.

The story of the Lego movie expands in a bunch of directions in this moment, but I’d like to focus on two of the patterns — ways in which the story and the viewer can “zoom in” or “zoom out” of what is happening:

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