Upon the most recent viewing of The Incredibles, I’ve come to the conclusion that the film directed and written by Brad Bird is not about superheroes or equality. It’s about rampant use of frivolous lawsuits. In America, there are over one millions lawyers per capita, more than any other nation. On average, 15 million civil lawsuits are filed each year, and trial lawyers earn an estimated $40billion, cumulatively, per year.
A film like X-Men would have you believe that racism and prejudice impede the exposure of superheroes. According to The Incredibles, it’s people’s greed, or, more appropriately, the fear of being sued. That said, the lives of superheroes are kept underground because their lifeblood could be siphoned through kind acts mistakenly interpreted as violating human rights. Granted, much of the film centers on family values, conflict, and the threat of stagnation, but these three tropes are challenged all because of a callow man and his nasally lawyer.
The impetus itself is merely glazed over in the film after the opening interview when Mr. Incredible saves Mr. Sansweet, a man whose attempt to commit suicide by plummeting from the roof an office building is foiled as Mr. Incredible snatches him out of the air while crashing through a window on his way to subdue super villain Bomb Voyage.
As Mr. Sansweet – whose name bespeaks bitterness and pessimism – and Mr. Incredible crash through the glass, a low, “I think you broke my back can be heard” before Incredible runs off to save the rest of the city. There’s a nefarious legal conspiracy established here. We soon find that Mr. Sansweet’s back is not broken, and his only injury appears to be concealed by the wickedly stigmatized neck brace that often portends the handiwork of an ambulance chasing lawyer. The validity of Sansweet’s injury is doubly questioned when – during his interview announcing his intention to sue Mr. Incredible – the defendant barges in, claiming, “I saved your life!” to which Sansweet rejoins, “You ruined my death!” Two things are telling here. First, the plaintiff animatedly yells this line, all the while jabbing his head toward Mr. Incredible like a rooster in a cockfight. Clearly, the injury, nor the brace have impaired mobility.
Secondly, the procedure of the suit itself suggests that Sansweet no longer wants to die – at least, not immediately. Logically, it seems that additional money will be what elides his desire to die. And the source of this money – the lawsuit – also speaks to individual greed.
What’s most disturbing about this theme in The Incredibles is that it also looks at society through a lens tinted with endemic exhibitionism and individualism. As the cohort of superheroes is broken down to its individual members, a survival instinct kicks in; for the most part, they no longer associate each other. In part because they have been distributed around the country in various protection programs, but also because of the fear of incrimination and other lawsuits.
In turn, this creates fear. For the superheroes, the fear is that they will be exposed, sued, and need to move again. For the rest, the fear is of each other. Each interaction and relationship is precarious. Each one is constructed within a bureaucracy of appropriateness and assigned roles.