Recently, I watched one of my favorite of Pixar's films - The Incredibles, directed by Brad Bird and composed by Michael Giacchino. There are just SO many things that make this film one of Pixar's best and most enduring narratives. In the wake of The Incredibles 2 hitting theaters Summer of 2018, I thought I would explore what is perhaps the film's best element - the underlying theme of strength in weakness as a vessel to understand identity.
I'd say the primary theme of the film has its F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nick Carraway, seal of approval of not being able to repeat the past; to be more precise, letting go of the past. We see this most prominently in Mr. Incredible as he battles throughout the film to live a normal life, be a father, and not root his purpose in his super powers. But then as I began to look more into this film and discussed it with a close friend of mine, we noticed the super powers of Mr. Incredible and his family tell a story on their own.
This is where the underlying theme comes in - strength in weakness revealing identity. Mr. Incredible, Mrs. Incredible, Violet and Dash all display this theme really well; and in different ways. The more I explored these characters strengths and weaknesses, the more I realized their strengths and weaknesses were rooted in one another. Their powers reflect their most defining character traits and things they are trying to overcome in themselves. Noticing this, I watched the film a second time and saw how this played a role in all four of the Parr (Incredible) family's character development as they all understood more of, and stepped into, their new identities by the end of the film. I'm going to be focusing on Mr. Incredible, but here's a small summary of the other three characters (I excluded Jack Jack - sorry little guy):
Dash is the speedy, mischievous Incredible who shows hints of his Dad but mostly that he's a kid who wants to have fun with the fact that he has super powers. Even though his power is super speed, he is constantly being told the first half of the film that he needs to slow down. Granted, some of the things he wants to do are things he probably shouldn't; like sports or putting tacks on his teacher's chairs. But his power reflects his character so well. He's full of immense energy (like a kid) and it never seems to go away, no matter how much he's told to slow down. He's still a kid who isn't even thinking about understanding who he is and sees fighting crime as a game. This is best shown from his exasperated and excited rant about their "vacation" in the limo towards the end of the movie after they all almost died on Syndrome's island. I would say he hasn't quite understood how to slow down and think through things by the end of the film, and that's okay. Like I said, Dash's understanding of identity is as limited as a kid's would be. For a character to grow they must understand who they were before to become the person they want to be. I'm really interested to see how this plays a role in the next film.
Violet's character is summed up so well in her opening scene. Tony Rydinger (her love interest) walks down the steps after school and looks in her direction, unaware that she's invisible, then walks past with his friends and Violet runs off excited saying, "He looked at me!" Violet's power is to be invisible, but even when she isn't using it, she is. The most important thing about this is Violet doesn't feel like she's invisible, but she's afraid to be seen. It isn't until Syndrome blows up her Mom's jet and she doesn't protect her family that she sees what her fear and lack of confidence does to her and those around her. When she confides in her Mom that she's sorry about the plane, Mrs. Incredible tells her it's okay, but more importantly, she has more strength than she realizes. Then, in the moonlight, violet puts on her mask to show she's ready to take on this new and confident identity that has been within her all along. We see this play out until the end of the film when she starts using her force field and not just her invisibility, she wears her hair back instead of forward (revealing her face) and basically asks herself out through her crush Tony before Dash's track meet.
Now Mrs. Incredible's character is really interesting. Her super power is flexibility and throughout the film, she is definitely super flexible. She adjusts to the constant mistakes and changes in her life Mr. Incredible has brought upon them. She adjusted quite well from being a super hero to a stay at home Mom. In a sense, her character doesn't seem flawed. But after watching the film again I noticed that maybe her weakness wasn't that she wasn't flexible enough, maybe it was that she was too flexible. When Mrs. Incredible breaks down in front of Edna after she realizes Mr. Incredible has been sneaking off and lying to her about losing his job, she says, "How could I let this happen?" She notices she let him slip away because despite her ability to be flexible, she couldn't make him feel the same way she feels; about being a parent, a husband, and provider, no matter how hard she tried. It isn't until the end of the film where Mr. Incredible reaches his self-realization that her character grows in this. Because what better way to grow a character who's strength and weakness is flexibility, than to be dependent on the growth of another character? She grows through her flexibility. Brilliant.
From the beginning of the film we can tell that he is clearly the most respected and venerated of super heroes. He's good looking, has super strength, he's brave, and he works alone. Mr. Incredible's identity is found so much in his notoriety. The fact that he's super, everyone depends on him, and that he works alone are all of what he believes makes him valuable to the world.This is why it's so difficult when he transitions into living a "normal" life and he can't help but try to repeat the past. We see him display his physical strength as the film goes on, but he feels deep down that it isn't enough.
Once he thinks his wife and children are killed when Syndrome blows up their jet, he hits this belief that he's not strong enough to protect the thing he cares about most - his family. It's here where he realizes the most important thing to him isn't the glory days, but being a father and a husband, and that is where his true identity lies. But after being helpless to protect his family, he tries to reconcile this new realization with his old identity, the one that feels he has to do everything on his own to prove his worth. It isn't until the final battle with the Omnidroid and Mr. Incredible is about to run off into battle leaving his family behind that he's stopped by his wife. Mrs. Incredible gets angry with him and they begin arguing and he reveals the line, "I'm not strong enough!" Even though Mr. Incredible has shown so much physical strength throughout the film, he never has felt like it was enough, because there's no notoriety in being a dad, or protecting your family. It's so ironic because by admitting this, Mr. Incredible feels it's his greatest weakness, but Mrs. Incredible is there to show him that this fear is his greatest strength, which is only strengthened by fighting alongside his family.
At this moment we see his two identities side-by-side; the identity rooted in notoriety and fame from saving people he scarcely knows, and the other which has been waiting for him to step into all along, the love/protection of a husband and father that accumulates little to no notoriety at all. And we all know what happens next. Mr. and Mrs. Incredible passionately kiss after Mr. Incredible's moment of vulnerability and the Incredibles go save the day.
Mr. Incredible's character had a lot more depth than I realized while writing this. I hope to see a little bit of his backstory in the next film. Even though it starts right where the first one ended, I still have hope for some flashbacks! I feel there is so much more that I could say about this film because it's just so wonderful, but I'll leave it here. Thank you Pixar, for being Pixar and taking the time to create work that reveals depth upon depth the more it is explored. May we see how the strength in our weakness reveals who we are.
The Incredibles 2 releases the Summer of June 15th, 2018