In honor of the recent release of Incredibles 2, a repost of my look at the philosophical implications of the original movie.
While I found it impossible not to like and enjoy Brad Bird’s animated hit, I found myself a bit disturbed by the film’s open embrace of Nietzschean philosophical conceits. It’s always possible to tell a great deal about the nature of a superhero story by examining the the characteristics of the villian.
In Unbreakable for example, the villain is the hero’s wise and seemingly benevolent mentor. In Mystery Men, little of the films’s revisionist bile is wasted on the putative villain, with the majority of it reserved for the over-commercialized superhero himself; a circumstance which places a mismatched set of obsessive fans in the role of the film’s real heroes. In The Incredibles, on the other hand, the superman is placed firmly back in his role as hero, with the villain’s role filled by an envious, scheming, morally and physically inferior fanboy.
When all is said and done, the majority of superhero stories owe a debt to Nietzsche’s idea of the “Übermensch”, which literally translates as “Superman”. The Übermensch is a human being who is naturally superior to those around him in intellect, athleticism and zest for life. A natural leader, it is his destiny is to dominate his society, yet the jealousy and connivance of the lesser beings that surround him force him to squander his potential in frustrated anonymity. That same description also applies to the plot of The Incredibles, which comes complete –in proper Nietzschean fashion– with a square-jawed, ultra-Aryan hero. Which is why, as entertaining a movie as this may have been, it is important to remember that it posits a world in which human beings are born superior (or by extension, inferior) by nature.