DC and Marvel comics often use genetic mutation or magic to explain the existence of superheroes and their powers. The Incredibles offers no explanations. This is fantasy, and the film simply asks us to suspend disbelief. Far more central to a good analysis of the film are the ethical standards it assumes and the ethical issues it addresses.
These superheroes are indeed heroes, not anti-heroes. They believe in right and wrong, in moral absolutes. Interestingly, they submit to the lawful authorities—well, mostly. They also believe in the value and sanctity of human life, in property rights, and in traditional marriage and the importance of family. Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl are even married in a church by a pastor using a traditional service. It seems that at least one of them has some sort of Christian background.
But our heroes most certainly struggle with their own sins. Struggling with selfishness and pride to some degree, Mr. Incredible is the chief offender, so we’ll talk about him.
Learning From Mr. Incredible
In the good old days, Bob reveled in his strength and near invulnerability. He loved to help people, take down bad guys, and face terrible danger for the greater good. He also loved the limelight. Now a public backlash and Federal law has pushed all superheroes into seclusion, and Bob finds himself in a dead-end job as an insurance adjustor.
As his dreary life goes on, Bob falls victim to pride and self-pity. He tunes out his family. Bob even sends his overbearing boss to the hospital with one punch and loses his job. When he’s offered a return to glory, he takes it—without consulting his wife. Then he falls into the villain’s trap, and before we’re done, his whole family gets sucked in as well.
Bob’s redemption comes quickly. He refuses vengeance and murder. This gains him a crucial ally. He freely confesses his failures as he and his wife Helen dash to rescue their children. And when he faces mortal danger again, he tries to protect his family. But Helen refuses.
We might see Helen’s refusal to be sidelined as a mild bit of feminism. But, right or wrong, Helen appeals to their marriage vows—“You’re my husband. I’m with you. For better or for worse.”
Should a hero take his wife and children into mortal combat? In general, no. God appointed the man to protect his family, particularly in war. But this doesn’t mean that mom and kids should be incapable of defending themselves when the bad guy shows up at their door—or pounds its claw through their camper roof.
The Incredibles And Moral Standards
So, with some real human failures, our heroes are still heroes. We need to ask, Where did they learn their morality? It’s likely that our heroes probably picked up their moral standards the same place that most 1950s Americans did—from the Christian legacy that still permeated the secular culture. But like most Americans then and now, our heroes never seem to ask questions like, “How do we know right from wrong?” and “Who’s in charge of this universe anyway?”
There is a gospel that runs through The Incredibles. Overwhelming tragedy moves Mr. Incredible to face his moral failures. Then he changes. He realigns his actions with his fundamental convictions. He is sorry he has failed his family and is ready to do the right thing.
There is some truth in Mr. Incredible’s reformation. Moral people often abandon foolish behavior when they see its consequences. This is part of God’s general goodness to men, what theologians call “common grace.” But this sort of reformation doesn’t spring from a real change of heart, and it generally shifts the sinner’s focus from one idol to another, even if that new idol is morality, family, or love. Here is where the movie fails most seriously. Bob’s redemption is ultimately superficial. It’s rooted in a love that lacks a coherent context or justification. Our heroes are never able to tell us or each other why their love for one another is so important. Helen recalls their marriage vows, but is she trusting the God who ordained marriage? She doesn’t say, ever, and that’s something worth talking about.
Teaching Christian Worldview Using The Incredibles
When discussing movies and worldview with our kids, let’s remember that one of the true benchmarks of Christian piety is if “thanks” were given to God or not. Not some nebulous thanks but thanks given to the one true God. So we have a real biblical standard by which to look at a movie. The apostle Paul in the first chapter of Romans says it well…”For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks. But they became futile in their speculations. And their foolish heart was darkened, professing to be wise, they became fools.”
“The Incredibles” was and still is a lot of fun as a movie. Extremely well written and certainly cute. However, if we’re going to analyze the movie with Christian standards in mind, we have to ask…
Did the characters in “The Incredibles” give thanks to the one true God? We should also ask where their standards came from and what gospel (message of healing and salvation) is present in the movie. If Jesus isn’t at the center of all this, you should probably tell your kids. Some great opportunities for worldview training here.