Saturday, July 19, 2014

The (shamanic) Lego Movie?

Legos become a metaphor for . . . human existence?

How is that even possible!?!

Spoiler alert: if you haven't already done so, you may want to go watch the Lego Movie before you read any further.

Disclaimer: yes, it's a movie about a corporate product (Lego happens to be a privately-held company, founded in 1932 by Kirk Kristiansen in Denmark). For some reason this will immediately cause some people to turn the movie into their own personal political football and argue that it perfectly illustrates whatever agenda they themselves are trying to advance, or whatever bogeyman they most deeply oppose. 

To some, it will be reviled as too "pro-business" (or as some kind of gigantic advertisement for Legos, mind control for children, etc). 

To others, it will be attacked as subversively anti-business. 

However, I am now going to reveal what the film is actually all about (again, read no further if you want to go watch it first and figure out its meaning for yourself, which may be completely different from what I am about to propose).

I can tell you what the film is actually all about, with 100% certainty that I'm right because . . . I'm special.

And so are you. 

So it may mean something completely different to you (see examples above: pro-business, anti-business, pro-libertarian, anti-libertarian, pro-kids, pro-dads, pro-sisters, pro-pirates, pro-rainbows, pro-Batman . . . you name it). 

But I know with 100% certainty what the movie is about to me. 

Here it is: the Lego Movie is about the shamanic. Transcending barriers. Creating worlds. Altering "reality."

It may seem at first glance that the movie is traveling the well-worn path of saying that "everyone is special" (and it does say that), that childlike-creativity trumps stultifying misguided perfection-seeking adulthood (and it does say that as well), or that you just need to "believe in yourself" (yes, it says that too). 

But not only does the movie convey those messages in ways that go way beyond the typical movie cliches, and in ways that hilariously send-up those same cliches at the same time, but it conveys a message which goes way beyond those messages as we've become accustomed to hearing them or seeing them presented on the screen.* 

Because the Lego Movie is about breaking through the fabric of "reality" and learning to create your own.

This movie is The Matrix using Lego sets.

The protagonist of the film, the hero if you will, is a completely ordinary guy named Emmet, who doesn't seem to have any special talents at all, other than going along with everything that is handed to him and buying into the reality that's handed to him to such a degree that, when his co-workers are interrogated by the police regarding the details of his personal life and character, they describe him as "a little bit of a blank slate," if they can even remember who he is at all. He follows the instruction manuals slavishly and is lost if he doesn't have "directions."

When Emmet accidentally stumbles across the "relic" which can save the world from destruction, he is hailed by the secret Master Builders as "the Special" who will lead them to stop the evil mastermind who has been putting up barriers between the worlds and who is planning in three days to freeze everyone and take away the last vestiges of their autonomy. But they quickly discover that, unlike all the other Master Builders who manifest extraordinary and unique talents which combine acrobatic martial arts, witty one-liners, and the ability to build anything out of anything, Emmett has difficulty creating anything original at all. Even mustering up an original thought seems to be a challenge for him.

And yet, Emmet turns out to be truly special, and in a way that surpasses all of the incredible Master Builders that he meets. He has one gift which he didn't even realize that he had, a gift so unique that  when he mentions it in an offhanded sort of way, none of the Master Builders can believe it.

(This is your final spoiler alert of this blog post: stop reading now if you haven't seen the film and don't want to know in advance what sets Emmet apart from every other Lego figure in the world of Legos). Scroll down below the Lego Movie trailer to learn more . . .

Here it comes:

Emmet, alone among all the other Lego characters in the Lego world of the film, can transcend the boundaries to the other world.

That's right. Without even realizing it, Emmet is a sort of Lego-shaman.

He has moments in which he enters a trance-state and sees hazy visions of the actual place where flesh-and-blood human beings are playing with all the Legos that inhabit the various worlds of the film. He even sees a kitten at one point.

And, what's more, he is actually able to move around (with great effort) in that other realm during the film's critical moments, and in doing so to change events on the other side. This is the only way that events in the "regular world" (that is to say, for the Lego characters, events in the Lego world) can hope to be put right: on their own, even the combined powers of all the Master Builders are unable to stop the implacable Will Ferrell. And, this talent (however un-sought-out it appears to be in the character of Emmet, who just seems to possess it without knowing where it came from) marks Emmet as a shamanic character.

In Mircea Eliade's landmark examination of shamanism around the world, entitled Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy and first published in French in 1951 based on research and first-hand accounts collected during the first half of the twentieth century and the end of the nineteenth, when more shamanic cultures were available for study than remain today, the author defines shamanism in a very restricted sense, as the technique of actually traveling to the other world.

It is not the same as dealing with spirits, or with magic, or with the realm of the dead. Although shamanism involves all of those things, Eliade explains that one can interact with spirits without being a shaman. The difference is that the shaman has the ability to go to the spirit world and return. The shaman transcends the world of stasis (the world of the static, or stationary) and possesses techniques of ecstasy: techniques of transcending the static world:
A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism = technique of ecstasy.
[. . .]
Magic and magicians are to be found more or less all over the world, whereas shamanism exhibits a particular magical specialty, on which we shall later dwell at length: "mastery over fire," "magical flight," and so on. By virtue of this fact, though the shaman is, among other things, a magician, not every magician can properly be termed a shaman. The same distinction must be applied in regard to shamanic healing; every medicine man is a healer, but the shaman employs a method that is his and his alone. As for the shamanic techniques of ecstasy, they do not exhaust all the varieties of ecstatic experience documented in the history of religions and religious ethnology. Hence any ecstatic cannot be considered a shaman; the shaman specializes in a trance during which his soul is believed to leave his body and ascend to the sky or descend to the underworld.
[. . .]
Shamans are of the "elect," and as such they have access to a region of the sacred inaccessible to other members of the community. Eliade, 4-7.
Seen in this light, the Lego Movie is clearly a shamanic movie. Note that the antagonist character in the Lego Movie has a chilling plan: to make everything static -- permanently static. He has already implemented the creation of barriers "between the worlds" which the Lego characters resent and which restrict their freedom to create and to grow and thrive. His ultimate vision is to freeze everything in place, and in doing so to destroy creativity and dynamism forever. This plan is only thwarted by a character who can transcend the ultimate boundary: the boundary between the Lego world and the "people world." Ultimately, Emmet defeats the threat of the static through the technique of ecstasy.

As it turns out, the plot and themes of the Lego Movie parallel the message which I believe lies at the heart of every ancient sacred myth and scripture of the human race: a message that this realm we inhabit is in some ways a "construct," a "projection," even a "hologram" (to use a metaphor which serious theoretical physicists began to apply in their models of the universe, models which were proposed in response to the often-disturbing results of experiments such as those which gave rise to what we now call quantum physics).

Those scriptures teach that there is another realm, a "seed realm," a realm of the neters, a realm of the gods, a spirit world. It is this other world that contains the "pattern" for everything in this realm. And it is to this other realm that the shaman must sometimes travel, in order to effect changes which will manifest themselves in the physical world or the "ordinary world."

So, in the Lego Movie, which realm is which? Clearly, the Lego world (where Emmet starts out, and where most of the film's action takes place; the realm in which most of the characters spend all of their time) becomes in the film a metaphor for our world. The Lego world, like our world, is in some sense "just a construct." Plato might describe the Lego world as a projection of ideas or patterns that come from or which reside on the other side (the realm of the ideal, in his terminology).

The "people world" where Will Ferrell and his son actually play with the Legos and turn their ideas into reality becomes, in the movie, the allegorical representation of the ideal world, the spirit world, the world of the gods, the world of the patterns that will work themselves out in the Lego world, the constructed world.

Like Neo in The Matrix, Emmet is somehow blessed with the ability to see beyond the projected world, the constructed world. He can look into the side where the patterns reside, and he finds that he can even effect changes there. Similarly, in The Matrix, Neo can look into the "source code" that creates the mundane world -- and he finds that he can actually effect changes to that source code, effect changes in the "other realm" and by doing so make changes in the projected world.

Neo is "the One." Emmet is "the Special."

These are not just cliche'd terms. This is not a movie that just proclaims "everyone is special," although it does send the message that everyone can actually transcend the artificial limitations and create realities -- and that everyone should. Perhaps not everyone can be a shaman, per se, but everyone can be an artist (we see that in the fact that in the Lego Movie, the Master Builders can create incredible vehicles and devices using their creativity and imagination, even if they cannot like Emmet travel to the "other side" in a state of shamanic ecstasy).

And this, too, is the message of all ancient myth and sacred scripture, even though those myths have often been twisted to mean something completely the opposite (twisted, in fact, to send a message that is remarkably like the chilling vision of the maniacal villain in the Lego Movie, who wants to create rigid un-crossable boundaries around everything, and who wants to put everyone into a charming pose and then freeze them in that pose forever).

It is a vision which has perhaps been articulated most powerfully among modern writers and speakers by Jon Rappoport -- read through this examination of the barrier-breaking talk he delivered at the Secret Space Program conference at the end of last month and see if the themes in the Lego Movie involving the creation of entirely new worlds and new realities does not resonate with what he is expounding, and what he argues the trickster-gods found in almost every ancient mythology was trying to tell us.

The Lego Movie's opening sequences depict a world of stultifying conformity, of mass surveillance, of happy distractions, and of a brutal police state wedded to the goals of enormous corporations and willing to use violence and torture to further diabolical ends and to rob individuals of their inherent dignity, creativity, and spark of divinity. It seems to argue that the solutions to these terrifying conditions involve -- even require -- the individual to transcend the artificial barriers erected to keep them from creating new worlds and new realities.

And, like The Matrix, it invites us to explore the possibility that this world is in some ways a construct, a projection, even an illusion. By understanding its interdependence on the seed realm, the realm of patterns, the ideal realm, or the spirit realm, and the fact that changes which are made on one side can effect changes on the other side, we can understand a lot more of what is going on around us . . . and how to thwart the plans of those who have declared themselves to be the enemies of human freedom, consciousness, creativity, and divinity.

* (And by the way, if you're thinking of taking your young children to see it, here's another caution to those who haven't seen it yet: it's scary! At least, I got scared, when they started freezing Liam Neeson's parents and wiping out his face and parts of his personality. But maybe your kids are used to seeing that kind of stuff in films and it won't bother them -- I don't know).

(There's also a melting-chamber for Legos).  (Yikes!).