‘The Incredibles’ and the Myth of the Ideal Family

(image courtesy of twitter.com/Disney/)

The brilliance of the film “The Incredibles”is that it comically exaggerates the roles of an “ideal” 1960s American family. The father must be a pillar of strength, the mother flexible to the needs of her family, the daughter quiet and guarded, the son athletic, and the baby full of possibility. Throughout the film, they take up their roles and subvert them.

Christians often say that men should be the head of the household and that wives must submit to their husbands. The truth is God created man and women equal. When men are only seen as strong and women as flexible to their desires, it can lead to a toxic imbalance of power. Women will not be truly equal until men take up equal responsibility in parenting and family duties.

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“The Incredibles” channels this Christian truth of equality. It is a rare film where we see women learning to be confident and men learning to humble themselves and compromise.

The movie opens with interviews with the parents of the superhero family in their younger years. Mr. Incredible (Bob) is the classic hero, strong and brave, but he admits he wants to settle down and start a family. Elastagirl (Helen) feels quite the opposite, “Leave the saving the world to the men? I don’t think so.” Yet it is Bob who is so preoccupied with saving the city that he is late to his own wedding.

When we fast forward, Bob seems to have forgotten his longing for family life, and Helen has left behind her aspirations for saving the world. She gets stuck with the housework and parenting super-kids Violet and Dash, while Bob sneaks around doing hero work with a superhero buddy, reliving the nostalgia of “the good ol’ days.”

Mr. Incredible pays for his self-indulgence when his little side job turns out to be a death trap. Not only is he captured by a villain, Syndrome, but he also sees his whole family put their lives in jeopardy trying to rescue him.

One of the most moving moments in the film is when Bob admits he is not invincible. Even with super strength, he’s not strong enough to lose Helen and his kids. He’s not just Mr. Incredible, he is a husband and father, and he’s been neglecting those duties.

Throughout the course of the film, each member of the family realizes they are more than their what their superhero abilities might suggest. The speedy Dash learns to let go of his ego in order to come in second at his school’s race. Violet, whose superpower is to make herself invisible, allows herself to be seen, and she fearlessly asks out the cute guy she had been crushing on. Helen stands up to Bob and lets him know that she is an important member of this family whose needs are just as vital as anyone else’s.

The truth is there is no ideal family. The trailers for “The Incredibles 2” promise to continue this theme, subverting gender roles with Bob starting to take up his full role as full-time parent, and Elastagirl is finally given her time to shine saving the world.

“The Incredibles”deals with complex family issues in a form that is appropriate for the entire family. We see how no single character is easily categorizable. Being a part of a family means leaving any personal ego behind, and becoming the person you need to be.

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J Cosgrove
4 months ago

Looking forward to Incredibles 2. Loved the first one. My wife and I are watching the first one tonight in preparation for the sequel.

Would we want a dysfunctional family as the norm to emulated? Women have always made most of the big decisions in family life. They control most of the spending in a typical household.

Mike Anderson
4 months ago

How long ya been married, Amanda? I come from generations of long marriages (my own is 20+ years), all of which are of the mythical sort that you mention. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, but the most tried and true is the one you call "mythical," and should be the one taught as the the most likely scenario for longevity and the well being of all parties involved.

Ironically, you site a mythical cartoon family as an example of a worthy alternative.

Bill Madden
4 months ago

My wife and I have been married for over 50 years (hard to imagine!). We have 8 "kids", both biological and adopted.As both a physician and career Army officer I have also been involved with and sometimes counseled literally thousands of families. Bottom line for me: I really dislike the phrase "dysfunctional family". Why, because it implies that somewhere there is a "functional" family. We all have personal pathologies and biases that directly impact on our lives, both in and outside of our families. What is important is that we be honest with ourselves so that we can make who we are into the best possible version of ourselves, both with those whom we live and with those we interact with in the world.
Lastly, I do not believe that there is one "right" way that families should be organized. Roles and relationships within families are dependent upon the individuals involved and the circumstances within which they live. They also evolve over time as both people and circumstances evolve.

J Cosgrove
4 months ago

Your logic is wrong. Saying there are dysfunctional families does not imply there is only one functional family type. There could be many functional families and not just one kind. But there are definitely dysfunctional families and cultures.

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