“The Incredibles” is the most pleasantly surprising film of the year. While Pixar has established a track record of beautifully animated and nicely scripted productions, “The Incredibles” goes far beyond this usual formula. I expected a visually enticing treat with a few mediocre jokes worked in to keep the audience interested, but I found something more significant that verges off into a meditation on the family, the potential for human greatness and politics. And while it would be shocking to find that a film from a studio owned by Steve Jobs might have a right-ward bent, the National Review has made a compelling case that “The Incredibles” is a conservative film. This isn’t the fire-breathing type of Republicanism that is prominent in American electoral politics, but a style of quiet conservatism.
The National Review’s interpretation of the film, which the magazine called “a superhero action movie about the sanctity of marriage,” hinges on family. At its core, “The Incredibles” is a story about a family that is forced to conceal its special talents so that society will not have to bear the costs of their greatness. Writer-director Brad Bird (“The Iron Giant”) pivots the story around the workaday struggles of Bob Parr, an ex-superhero struggling to come to grips with his displacement to mediocrity in the suburbs and his family of would-be superheroes. Their lives are filled with small insults. Dash, the eldest son of the Parr clan, is proscribed from joining his school’s athletic teams so that the other students won’t feel bad about their relative shortcomings. His sister Violet is a morose teenager who dreams of becoming as average as her peers. In the world of “The Incredibles” the net effect of this focus on equality for equality’s sake are stunted and insecure children who inhabit a dreary world. An interesting debate is currently playing itself out on the online magazine Slate where David Edelstein, the magazine’s film critic, has been publishing letters from readers arguing over the film’s political orientation. From here you can make a few observations about the corrosive effects of liberalism, link them together in a tenuous argument about President Bush’s re-election and the return of conservative values to the center of American life.
This rendering of “The Incredibles” misses some of the more interesting contradictions in the film. Parr works in a soul-crushing, spirit-numbing insurance agency, where he’s forced to reject the legitimate insurance claims of his clients. In between his unscrupulous endeavors, Parr is forced to endure the slings and arrows of his arrogant boss.
The depiction of the suburbs in the film would be equally unacceptable to a true believing conservative like David Brooks of The New York Times. Life in the expansive suburbs is filled with conformity and cookie-cutter homes and the Parrs are forced to hide their talents from the eyes of prying neighbors. At times the film channels the final scene in “Goodfellas” where a discouraged Henry Hill philosophizes from his subdivision, “Right after I got here I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.” This distaste for the sprawling exurbs isn’t exactly the stuff of contemporary conservatism.
Of course, these inconsistencies are unlikely to discourage writers from appropriating “The Incredibles” to support their pet causes. The appeal of using “The Incredibles” lies in its popularity, and without that enormous box office gross there’d be little interest in these interpretations. The desire to twist and manipulate the message of a film correlates nicely to the success of a film. I’ll continue to wait endlessly for the day that someone cites “Seed of Chucky” to defend their beliefs.
— Zac’s right, as always. If you disagree with him, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.