After rewatching The Incredibles for the millionth time, preparing for the release of the upcoming sequel, I decided to write down some of my thoughts on it’s core theme, which I feel is one rarely addressed in other movies: It is about ‘raising gifted children’.
The superpowers are an allegory for any gift someone is born with, like a genius level IQ, or a certain athleticism. Something that can be trained for sure, but has to be there. Some people have it, some people don’t. It’s unfair but that’s the way it is. Our school system isn’t equipped to deal with these kinds of people. That’s why a lot of geniusses underperform drastically. They’re not catered to, get bored or unengaged and start underperforming. On the other hand, they shouldn’t be given the keys to the kingdom just for some genetical advantage either, ’cause that would be unfair to everyone else. So how do you treat everyone equally whilst at the same time acknowledging that humans aren’t equal and give everyone a way to develop as people that brings out the best in who they are? Those are two goals that society should always try to meet but that also basically contradict each other. And then, in a society unequipped to meet those goals: How do you raise a child, make them fulfilled and reach their potential, teaching them that yes, they are better at certain things, but not make them arrogant or disrespectful. Teach them that they have certain needs, but also make them understand why society is unable to cater to those needs, and why those needs, since they seem like just a gift and a luxury to other people, will never be understood. The challenges of parenting that paradox is what Incredibles is about.
Every character in the movie, reflects this in a certain way. Dash is frustrated. He needs an outlet. That’s why he’s doing the thumbtacks and stuff. He needs to learn to be mindful of those who’re not as fast as he is. (Whose brains don’t run a mile a minute, if you go with the genius metaphor) but also his parents need to learn that suppressing his abilities (what Helen is doing) is just as crippling to him as letting them run free (what Bob is doing). Syndrome is what would happen to Dash if he would’ve remained suppressed. He would’ve started to resent everyone else because he feels they’re holding him back. He doesn’t feel secure and he doesn’t feel understood and supported. All very important things to a child growing up. Syndrome treats Mirage as lesser than him, simply because it’s his way of coping with himself being suppressed. That’s why he both wants to make everyone special, and also wants recognition for his specialness. His motivation must logically have that contradiction in terms that stems from his life of living with both the gift and the curse. That’s why Dash is allowed to run in that race in the end. Because everyone should receive equal treatment and people shouldn’t be suppressed back to mediocrity so as not to upset the people. That’s why he’s happy to run and end up in second place. Because he now has the recognition and support he needed to feel secure about himself, which saved him from having to take it out through other outlets. He can use his gift, but doesn’t have to show it off. That’s how much self-respect everyone in this family has gained thoughout the movie. That’s the arc. They find that balance. Violet is the opposite of Dash, where her coping mechanism is trying to fit in with people who are not like her. That makes her the child without any problems on the surface level, but also equally unhappy. Wallace Shawn’s character, and the ‘I think not!!’-teacher are the ordinary people who have the insecurity that makes them forcefully want special people to fit in. They do to Dash and Bob what Bob does to Buddy in the beginning.
The most important scene is the fight Helen and Bob have at night, when she tries so desperately to make everyone fit into a mould that they don’t fit into, and Bob is so frustrated he wants to just break the mould. He says something along the lines of ‘They’re celebrating mediocrity!’ That’s the one sentence that describes the themes of the movie: It’s about people who are different learning to live in a world that will forever think equality means treating everyone like their the same, instead of treating everyone with equal respect and support, even if you don’t fully understand them.