August 15

Martin Heidegger and The LEGO Movie: An Existentialist Interpretation

The LEGO Movie is an animated film that brings the plastic construction toy to life. Like so many others, I found the film to be a delight. I also found it to be a delightful metaphor for Martin Heidegger’s conception of “The One” and a humorous exposition of Existential Philosophy.

In the LEGO world everyone is a construction worker and everyone builds – and lives – according to instructions written out on folded sheets of paper. Emmet Brickowski is the hero of the story and his day, from the moment he wakes up until he lays his head down to sleep at night, is dictated by instructions.

All day long Emmet and everyone else in the LEGO world listens to the same song – Everything is Awesome. Everyone is happy in the LEGO world because everything IS awesome – or so they have been conditioned to believe. They are construction workers and everyday they build things – what could be better.

In his masterwork Being and Time the German philosopher Martin Heidegger introduced the concept of Das Man, which can be translated as The One. The One is the way of being human that is the norm of society. When we are doing what ‘one’ typically does, we are simply acting out the norm of society.

If we look at so much of human life we can see this in action. Most of the time are doing some variation of what ‘one’ does. We grow up, get an education, find and occupation, get married, start a family and eventually retire to live our later years. This is what ‘one’ does.

Heidegger realized that while we live out the norms of The One most of the time, there are occasions when at least some of us step out of the limitations of social norms and become a more authentic human being. Dasein is a term Heidegger used to describe the state of being where we are no longer simply acting out cultural norms, instead we have taken authentic responsibility for our situation in life and make authentic choices about who we are and how we will be. We become the architects of our own life.

In the LEGO world Emmet comes into contact with a group of Master Builders who are able to construct things…gasp…without instructions. They invent new and novel things. The Master Builders inherently subvert the status quo and so they are the archenemy of Lord Business who rules the LEGO world.

These Master Builders who make independent choices about what they will build and create exemplify Heidegger’s conception of authenticity. We becomes authentic when we move beyond doing what “one’ does and make our own choices about how to live our lives. Martin Heidegger is often thought of as an existentialist and this is the heart of existentialist philosophy. 

The characteristic that most unifies existentialists is their belief that human beings must look squarely into the mysterious emptiness that lies at the core of reality. In the face of this overwhelming uncertainty we must not cower or turn our heads toward the past. We must decide what is true and act on it. Truth to an existentialist is something you stand for— a stake that we plant in the face of doubt. The future is not waiting to be discovered; it is what we will build through the stands that we take.

Here’s to the Master Builders of our world.

[If you enjoyed this post please leave a reply – and suggest other movies that would make interesting jumping off points for philosophical discussion.]