Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Pixar + Nietzsche = The Incredibles

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Seriously, Pixar is the greatest company on the planet. I got back from seeing The Incredibles tonight, and while I wouldn’t go as far as Ezra Klein does in calling it “far and away the funnest film I’ve ever seen” — I’d say Finding Nemo and possibly even Monsters Inc and Toy Story 2 probably edge it out just in the Pixarimation category alone — it is a tremendously fun movie, and may even grow on me upon subsequent viewings.

The movie itself is a ton of fun, and absolutely worth seeing if you enjoy either superhero stories, nostalgia for superhero stories, or Pixar animation. My only real complaint is that I don’t feel like it surprised me as much as it might have, but that may just be my over-familiarity with the genre.

The movie does come to some interesting philosophical conclusions, not least among them the way it advocates full-on Nietzschean ethics. The “Supers” — literal Ubermensch — are the strong, endowed with special gifts that place them beyond the range of normal men. The Supers also possess unimpeachably noble spirits, just as Nietzsche described. While competing amongst themselves to be the finest hero, they devote themselves and their gifts entirely to protecting the weak from themselves.

The weak, in contrast, are weak because they deserve to be, as they are inferior not just physically but also ethically and spiritually to the Supers. The weak steal. The weak hurt themselves and others. The weak are jealous and spiteful, resenting the Supers for the gifts, using the courts to punish them under false pretenses. The weak even ultimately create laws to constrain the Supers, forcing them to keep their superpowers in check and hide, unhappily, among the normals — shades of the Genealogy of Morals, of ressentiment. (Incidentally, this is also rock-solid evidence that somebody somewhere in the writing process behind this movie read The Watchmen.)

Not unsurprisingly, no Super is a villain. Every villain we see in the movie is a “normal” person attempting, wrongly, to compete with his moral betters (the Supers) through the use of either technological or legalistic restraints.

The movie’s primary villain, himself a typically jealous weakling overreaching beyond his proper station, near the end of the movie describes his vision of the future: a world where the Supers have been eliminated and the abilities of the Ubermensch have been granted to the weak via technology — a world where everyone is special, and therefore no one is.

And, precisely as Nietzsche told us, the only weakness of the strong in The Incredibles comes from their decision to allow themselves to be hemmed in by the artificial constraints created by the weak. Superheroes in this world are ordered to blend in, to hide, to not stand out — and the movie’s message, again in line with Nietzsche, appears to be that this is unambiguously wrong. The strong, the movie suggests, should be allowed to thrive outside the false laws and values of the weak, acting according to their own superior, self-generated code.

Born a superhero? Be a superhero.

Not born a superhero? Get out of the way.

They should have given F.N. a co-writing credit.

Written by gerrycanavan

November 6, 2004 at 4:40 am

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