In the excerpted scene from the LEGO Movie, Emmet follows what is a longstanding trope in cinematic storytelling: the fulfillment of a previously unrealized ability at a singularly critical moment. This scene, which occurs against concert with the LEGO Movie’s overall theme of parodying cinematic tropes, nevertheless can be read as an alternate epistemological and ontological potentiality and gives rise to our own understanding of truth and knowledge.
Emmet’s dimensional trip from the “real” or live-action world affords him in part to recognize his dormant ability as a Master Builder. Upon his return to the LEGO universe, Emmet immediately puts his new ability to use and transforms machinery from ordinary heavy equipment vehicles into a weaponized colossus, able now to combat the Matrix-like micromanagers on more equal terms. Here, Emmet’s manipulation of physical reality points to a substantive philosophical problem: in such a world where everything is open to revisioning or repurposing, what counts as truth, and how is knowledge produced?
It is perhaps in this line of questioning that the LEGO Movie is most subversive. In an earlier expository scene, Emmet explains that as a common worker he has only built using official written instructions. The instructions, as viewers learn, are artifacts of slave labor forcefully composed by captured Master Builders to literally shape the world for Lord Business. Once the city is complete, Lord Business plans to use the superweapon “Kragle” (Krazy Glue) to seal the world in perpetuity. In resisting Lord Business’ plan and with his transformation into a Master Builder, Emmet refutes the perception of knowledge as textual and singular. As he retrieves The Piece of Resistance (Krazy Glue cap) to stop Kragle, Emmet seems to accept a radical reading of knowledge as not produced by a single ruler or elite class but as an anarchic enterprise in which everyone participates.
This sudden insight—another cinematic staple—also bleeds into the live-action world. For “The Man Upstairs,” his impulse to immortalize his LEGO city with a coat of glue is reversed once he notices his son Finn’s unconventional, yet well crafted, LEGO builds. The metanoiaic scene coincides with a less obvious but equally profound realization that there are many ways to build. While the movie’s message ultimately aligns with an inclusive epistemological outlook, such a message nevertheless is saddled with its own attendant concerns. After all, where does truth reside when everyone is a producer?