The Incredibles 2

One of the greatest works of cinematic art of the early 21st century was The Incredibles. Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but only slight. I never get round to ranking films but if I did it would be right up there in a top 5.

So, as with a lot of fans of that first film I guess, I went to see Incredibles 2 with some trepidation. It’s taken 14 years to make a sequel. Would it play it safe and essentially re-play the first film? Worst case scenario – would it ruin the perfection of that first movie with some crass plot and character development?

Well, all I can say is it is a worthy successor – and that’s a pretty big compliment.

We pick up where the first film left off. So our beloved family of Bob/Mr Incredible (Craig T Nelson), Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Violet, Dash and baby Jack-Jack is as was we left them. Supers are illegal. Helen is flattered by a smooth-talking mega-rich salesman and persuaded to get back into Super mode to fight bad guys. Bob becomes a stay-at-home dad doing the supposedly easy stuff of guiding Violet through teen-age heartbreak, teaching Dash maths and minding Jack-Jack. What could be simpler?

Save to say that things get complicated for both Bob and Helen. The plot rushes along satisfactorily. Frozone (Samuel L Jackson) is along to help and a bunch of creatively imagined new Supers also join the cast.

One of the funniest elements of The Incredibles was the Pixar short of Jack-Jack’s babysitter discovering to her horror something of the baby’s multiple powers – you know, the usual things babies do like laser beam eyes, ‘monsterisation’, immolation, disappearance to the 4th dimension – stuff like that.

Jack-Jack and his out of control powers take centre stage in The Incredibles 2. Two encounters had me laughing out loud – his battle with a racoon and his meeting with the wonderful scene-stealing designer and inventor Edna E Mode (voiced brilliantly by director Brad Bird) who reappears from the first film (if all too briefly). It’s worth reading the wikipedia article on Edna and the sheer creative genius behind her character.

Edna E Mode

The wit, imagination and heart of The Incredibles all continue into the sequel. The animation is bold and stylish, as is the retro 1960s modernist look. Under the surface, there are pokes at capitalism’s ‘more is better’, the superficiality of modern marketing, gender roles in marriage, teenage angst and the human struggle of good against evil / darkness against light.

But most of all it is just great fun.

And that’s a significant achievement.

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Mostly serious musings on humour

This blog can be a rather earnest place. Like any social media it presents a particular face to the world – in this case mostly theological ideas and issues discussed through a critical lens. By their nature, the subject nature is on the serious side. And fair enough too – the Christian faith deals with big questions of identity, purpose, injustice, hope, sin, forgiveness, judgement, suffering, reconciliation, death and new creation (for a start).

Larsen GBut life is also absurd, ironic, poetic and funny. This world is bursting with beauty.  Each day is an opportunity to learn, to love, to laugh and praise God for his goodness.

On laughter – has anyone written a good theology of humour? If so, I’d like to read it. Stanley Hauerwas has spent a life doing serious theology in an entertaining way.

I do think, in spite of considerable evidence to the contrary, that theology can and should be, in some of its modes, funny. Theology done right should make you laugh. It should be done in an entertaining manner. Humor is not the only mode of entertainment the discourse of theology can take, but it is surely the case that we are often attracted to speech and writing that is funny. This calls into question the presumption by some that if you want what you have to say to be entertaining, then what you have to say cannot be serious. I have tried to defy that presumption by attempting to do theology in a manner that “tickles” the imagination.  (The Work of Theology)

I think it’s harder to write such theology than speak it. In teaching and speaking there are so many more possibilities for bringing in irony and humour – a facial expression, a tone of voice, a throwaway remark, an off the cuff joke, a witty response to a question. But those are not to hand as easily in writing. Just think how many smiley emojis are needed not to cause insult and offence with an email joke.

I’m a writer. I love writing. If there is one thing I’d like to do better, it is to write serious theology entertainingly and imaginatively. I’m trying to do this in what I am writing at the moment and find it a huge challenge.

Seems to me that humour has multiple facets theologically speaking. I’m sure you can think of more than these three for starters …

Humour as gracious invitation

Po-faced Christians who never smile are somehow life-denying. They tend to take themselves so seriously that they can become inhospitable to others. Only those who share their serious God-given mission are accepted. Humour is hospitable – it invites others to a share in a mini-experience of joy. It is a gift of relationship offered to the other. So one way of looking at the overly serious Christian is someone who is ungenerous and stingy when it comes to blessing others through humour.

This is why a preacher who is deadly-earnest all the time had better be a brilliant communicator to hold people’s attention. He or she is not ‘giving’ people much in terms of generously drawing them in to the sermon.

Humour as humility

At its best, humour helps us to laugh at ourselves. That’s why self-depreciating humour, done honestly, humanises us. (Humour that humiliates the other isn’t funny – it’s just an aggressive power play. Dishonest self-depreciation merely tries to draw attention to the self). We are finite beings, full of desires, hopes, fears, mixed motives and plans. Life is transitory. We are here today and gone tomorrow. All our grand ambitions and projects will be forgotten sooner than we like to think.

I was clearing out some books recently. One was by an author I knew. He’d signed the front page for me. He seemed to have a long life ahead of him but a few years later he was dead. Now here was his book – all but forgotten and now out of date.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like  a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it and it is gone (Ps 103:15-16).

This means that, while we take faith and discipleship seriously, we need to have a healthy scepticism about ourselves.

Humour as weightlessness

Yet humour can be double-edged. There are few things worse (in my humble objective, unbiased and completely reasonable opinion) than a lame joke thrown in to a sermon ‘to lighten up’ all this ‘heavy’ theological talk. Give me the serious preacher any day.

Such humour can point to a lack of faith in the power of God’s Word and the power of the Spirit to speak into people’s lives, bringing transformation and renewal. It can be a rather desperate attempt to make following Jesus a comfortable and essentially unchallenging calling. Such humour can trivialize the gospel and the cost of Christian discipleship. Such preaching lacks ‘weight’.

Which all sounds very heavy theological talk but there you go. I’m back in earnest mode again …

So, to finish on a hilarious note (which makes my German wife roll about in mirth every time):

Question: ‘Where would you be without a sense of humour?’

Answer: Germany.

Comments, as ever, welcome.