The Incredibles – The Perils of Nostalgia

Thematic Reflection

Early on in The Incredibles, we realize that the only thing truly incredible about Mr. Incredible is the severity of his midlife crises. He works begrudgingly at his office desk, argues with his wife about childrearing, and unknowingly disregards his pre-adolescent children during a family dinner (see Clip 1). What makes these moments seem all the more ordinary are the repeated flashbacks to the “golden age” of superheroes – a time when Mr. Incredible’s life was far from ordinary.

If we only consider the perspective of Mr. Incredible, then the film is about his longing for what he has lost. His is an unhealthy nostalgia, a kind of glorification of the past. In this way, the film resonates with the words of Ecclesiastes: “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these days?’ for it is not wise to ask that” (Ecc. 4:10). Indeed, the comic nature of the film is rooted in its refusal to grant Mr. Incredible any kind of return to his former glory. Instead, it exposes the futility of elevating the extraordinary over and against the ordinary.

Significantly, it is his super hero wife and their truly exceptional children that draw Mr. Incredible out of his nostalgic stupor. After he fails to defeat Syndrome through his own efforts, the entire Incredible family – the very people Mr. Incredible believed to be the source of his disaffection – embarks on a mission to rescue their husband and father (see Clip 2). It is not until this climactic moment that Mr. Incredible finally realizes his true weakness. In spite of (or perhaps because of) his many great powers, he was unable to see that the ordinary aspects of existence are actually what make his life “incredible.”

His marriage was on the verge of a breakdown, his nemesis had overpowered him, and his mid-life crisis had placed his children in harm’s way. But rather than allowing Mr. Incredible (or the audience) to brush these harsh realities aside by simply returning him to some former glory, the film addresses his circumstances directly and honestly, for it underscores the emptiness of his nostalgia. It is indeed unwise to say “why were the old days better than these days?”

Without question, marriage is certainly wrought with difficulties, the loss of one’s physical capabilities is always disheartening, and raising children is never devoid of stress and feelings of failure. However, to avoid or escape these realities would be to deny the very things that invest life with meaning. As Mr. Incredible discovers, meaning is found, not in our isolated quests for personal glory, but in the context of self-giving relationships. “Two are better than one…. For if they fall, one will help his companion up, but pity the person who falls down and has no one to help him up….Moreover, a three-stranded cord is not quickly broken (Ecc. 4:10-12). Instead of overlooking or diminishing the significance of these hardships and seeming trivialities, The Incredibles calls attention to them. It indicates the hidden beauty of our mundane lives – an extra-ordinary beauty that resides and emerges from out of the ordinary.

Key Scenes

Clip 1

Clip 2

Discussion Questions

For Adults

Watch Clip 1, and read Ecclesiastes 10:7.

1) Do you ever feel your life is all too ordinary or unexceptional? Why?
2) For you, what are the “good old days?”
3) Does a longing to return to these days affect how you feel about quality of your life today? 

Watch Clip 2, and read Ecclesiastes 4:10-12.

1) Is it true that two are really better than one? In what ways do other people complicate matters?
2) Who do you rely upon to help you up when you fall?
3) What causes us to avoid relationships or to simply forge our own paths in life?

For Families

Watch Clip 1, and read Ecclesiastes 10:7.

1) Are you ever bothered by the way our family relates to one another?
2) Is there a time that you wish we could return to as a family? Why?
3) Do you ever feel like your life is boring, ordinary, or unexceptional? Why?

Watch Clip 2, and read Ecclesiastes 4:10-12.

1) When it comes to our family, is it true that two are really better than one?
2) Do you think we do a good job of helping each other up when we fall? What might we do differently?
3) What causes you to rely or not rely on the other members of our family?

For Students

Watch Clip 1, and read Ecclesiastes 10:7.

1) Is there a time that you wish you could return to?
2) What was particular good about that time?
3) Do you ever feel like your life is boring, ordinary, or unexceptional? Why?

Watch Clip 2, and read Ecclesiastes 4:10-12.

1) Is it true that two are really better than one? In what ways do other people complicate matters?
2) Who do you rely upon to help you up when you fall?
3) What causes us to avoid relationships or to simply forge our own paths in life?

For Children

Watch Clip 1, and read Ecclesiastes 10:7.

1) Is your family like the Incredible family?  How?
2) Describe the best day you ever had with your family? Describe the worst?
3) Do you ever feel ordinary? Is that good or bad?

Watch Clip 2, and read Ecclesiastes 4:10-12.

1) Why couldn’t Mr. Incredible save himself? What was it that he really needed?
2) Have you ever had to help one of your friends or someone in your family?
3) Have you ever had to ask a friend or a family member for help?

Related Scriptures

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these days?”
for it is not wise to ask that.

(Ecclesiastes 10:7)

Two people are better than one,
because they can reap more benefit from their labor.
For if they fall, one will help his companion up,
but pity the person who falls down and has no one to help him up.
Furthermore, if two lie down together, they can keep each other warm,
but how can one person keep warm by himself?
Although an assailant may overpower one person,
two can withstand him.
Moreover, a three-stranded cord is not quickly broken.

(Ecclesiastes 4:10-12)

More Resources for Further Reflection and Discussion

Family
Vocation