A send-up of the Caped Crusader that masquerades as a clever and hilarious parody of story structure.
The LEGO Batman Movie is an homage to the Dramatica theory of story’s concept of the Obstacle Character. Instead of one player presenting an alternative approach to solving problems that challenge the Main Character, this film gives us four. Robin, Alfred, Barbara Gordon, and the Joker all influence Batman/Bruce Wayne to grow by acting as an obstacle to his current justifications. This deference to Dramatica is so prevalent that each Influence character provides their version of the classic “You and I are both alike” scene–a moment key to understanding the relationship between the Main Character and Obstacle Character Throughline perspectives.
The Batman of The LEGO Batman Movie lives on an island–both figuratively and literally–setting the stage for the Main Character Throughline in Universe. Butler Alfred points out Batman’s failure to evolve over the years–a Main Character Concern of Progress (or lack of Progress) that finds its roots in the infamous murder of Batman’s parents outside a movie theater. Driven to avoid the feelings of loss that occur when someone close to him dies, Batman kicks everyone’s butt, does sweet drive-bys, and practices guitar solos solo in his awesome man cave Batcave. This preference towards taking action to solve personal problems over changing himself signifies a Main Character Approach of Do-er.
The Main Character Focus marks that Element of narrative where the Main Character believes their problems lie. The Main Character Direction describes their answer to that apparent Focus. In The LEGO Batman Movie, Batman’s Main Character Focus is Ending and his Direction Unending. His fear of people close to him dying (Ending) drives Batman to respond by keeping up an image of a lone vigilante who only cares about saving Gotham (Unending).
This cycle of focusing on death and keeping the legend alive persists the angst he feels. The only way he can break out of this problematic justification is by growing to a point where he can see his actual Problem and corresponding Solution.
His real problem, the Element that motivates him to look towards a Focus of Ending and a Direction of Unending, is Test. Dramatica defines Test as a trial to determine something’s validity. The loss of his parents motivates Batman to push people away–no one can pass the test of getting that close to him again.
Maintaining the Fantasy allows one to practice Directions so that Fantasy might actually turn into fact.
Batman’s nine-pack abs and playboy lifestyle are make-believe: a false belief to mask the real pain he feels.
It would take a village to open Batman up to change.
In The LEGO Batman Movie that community arrives in the form of the Joker, Robin, Barbara Gordon, and Alfred. The Joker kicks things off with high expectations for a special relationship with the Caped Crusader and feelings of low self-worth when he hears, "Batman doesn’t do ‘ships...as in ‘relationships’." Joker’s obsession with Batman is unrelenting and sets the stage for an Obstacle Character Throughline of problematic Minds.
“Are you seriously saying that there is nothing, nothing special about our relationship?"
Dramatica defines an Obstacle Character Issue of Worth as a rating of usefulness and an Obstacle Character Focus of Expectation as anticipated results. Low self-worth and expectations of something deeper permeate the Joker’s perspective `as much as they do Robin’s, Barbara’s, and Alfred’s respective points-of-view:
“Listen, you don’t have a family. You’re satisfied serving me. What do you know about having a surrogate son?”
Batman makes the people around him feel worthless, and it is not until he sees that reflected back to him in the Phantom Zone, that he begins to understand. Alfred’s feelings of worthlessness in reaction to those insensitive comments impact Batman, influencing the hero to change. Barbara’s sense of inadequacy at Batman’s denial of her appeal for teamwork and the Joker’s tears at being told Batman "You mean nothing to me" add to this impact. Even footage of Batman using Robin’s enthusiasm to coerce the little guy into risking his life, and then refusing to give the boy anything resembling a modicum of care, indicate feelings of worthlessness for poor old Dick.
This is the function of an Obstacle Character: to act as a mirror for the Main Character to recognize their personal issues. It’s no coincidence that Dick Grayson (Robin) and the other boys at the orphanage sing Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror when we meet him.
And it’s no coincidence that the unmet expectations found within the
Obstacle Character Throughline find a home within the objective Objective Story Throughline.
In a narrative where the Main Character shifts their perspective to that of the Obstacle Character, the Element that motivates the Main Character’s personal issue also drives the conflict in the Objective Story Throughline.
The Joker starts the inequity by seeking validation of a greater relationship between him and Batman (between "I and You"). This constant testing, reminiscent of many a romantic narrative, drives the conflict–and most of the humor–for all of Gotham with its Objective Story Problem of Test.
The problems for everyone, both good and bad, extenuate from unmet desires and how they think–and how they want others to think. That longing for something profound between them characterizes an Objective Story Issue of Desire. Manipulating Batman into sending the Joker to the Phantom Zone and manipulating Batman into saying "I hate you" delineates the area of conflict found in an Objective Story Throughline of Psychology, or Manner of Thinking.
While the Element driving the Main Character and Objective Story Throughline within a Changed Main Character story may be the same, the focus and direction of that conflict will differ between the two perspectives.
The constant need for emotional validation within the Objective Story Throughline perspective drives the focus towards unrealized expectations and determinations of relationship status. Joker’s hope that he is Batman’s greatest enemy and Batman’s "I like to fight around" answers the storyform’s Objective Story Focus of Expectation and Objective Story Direction of Determination.
Complete narratives function through these associations. By providing two different perspectives on the same problematic Element–one subjective and one objective–the Author builds a strong argument for the ultimate Solution for both.
In this case, that Solution is Trust.
Dramatica defines Trust as an acceptance of knowledge as proven without first testing its validity. The problems in both the Objective Story Throughline and the Main Character Throughline resolve when Batman accepts the people around him implicitly. The first clear indication of this occurs when the team gathers forces to defeat Sauron.
“BATMAN: You mean, without you, Alfred would have been street meat?
BARBARA: Batman, trust us. We can do this.
Realizing Batrope lied about saving Alfred, Batman turns to the others for assistance. Robin uses Gymkata to punch the 80s monsters off the plane and Alfred–a former member of the Royal Air Force–takes over as the tail gunner. Sensing the benefits of this change, Batman asks Barbara to trust him —something he would never have done at the beginning of the story–as he steers the Scuttler straight for Sauron.
Gordon accepts the offer and under Batman’s orders, dives at the last moment. The missile pursuing them careens into Sauron’s evil eye, destroying the evil villain. This sequence reveals to Batman the Solution of Trust.
Unfortunately, this turn of fortune is momentary as Batman returns to original form. Jogged into remembering the loss of his parents, the winged one secures his friends within the Scuttler and sends them to the edge of town for chimichangas and three Jarritos–the only way he knows how to keep them from meeting his parent’s fate.
This taste of the Solution indicates a means towards resolution, but fails to stick. Batman needs that final push from the Obstacle Character Throughline perspective–a moment that arrives when he observes the video montage in the Phantom Zone. That final drive requires the culmination of conflict resolution within the fourth and definitive perspective of the narrative, the Relationship Story Throughline.
To round out the exploration of conflict in this storyform, the Relationship Story Throughline of The LEGO Batman Movie needs to focus on problematic Physics and a Relationship Story Concern of Doing.
The relationship between Bruce/Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin plays out against the strenuous activities they engage in as father and son.
“Are you ready to follow Batman and maybe learn a few life lessons along the way?”
The lack of proper seat belts within the Batmobile and master building one’s way into the ultra-dangerous Superman’s Atomic Cauldron showcase intolerable life lessons for a father to teach his son.
The Element of Deviation, defined as inadequate, or not within tolerances motivates the Relationship Story Throughline of The LEGO Batman Movie. Taking advantage of Dick’s expectations of building a meaningful relationship and attributing a feeling of pride to being a great teacher builds upon this inadequacy between father and son with the Relationship Story Focus of Expectation and the Relatoinship Story Direction of Determination.
The Relationship Story Throughline of a complete narrative serves a purpose. By offering an alternative viewpoint of problematic elements found in the Obstacle Character Throughline, the viewer or reader quadrangulates an understanding of how to resolve similar inequities. Single perspectives miss critical blind spots–sampling all four angles eliminates these blank spaces.
Seeing the focus on missed expectations and failed attempts at determining other explanations as emanating from both Obstacle Character and Relationship Story, Batman realizes the real problem in the story: himself. Trusting that everyone is correct, Batman changes his Main Character Resolve and brings about the Story Outcome of Success.
Promotions for the movie advertise, "Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman." This slogan captures both the Objective Story Concern and Story Goal of Being, or Being. It’s not enough to defeat Joker or save Gotham from another doomsday device–it’s the actual fulfilling of one’s role in a relationship that saves the day.
“You’re the reason why I get up at 4:00 in the afternoon and pump iron until my chest is positively sick...If it wasn’t for you, I never would have learned how connected I am with all these people. And you.”
Multi-Appreciation Moment ties all four Throughlines together and resolves the fundamental inequity. By trusting the people around him, both Batman and the Joker unite the city while inviting in the presence of “us.”
“Sometimes, losing is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean you stop letting them in.”
The LEGO Batman Movie is textbook Dramatica. From “You and I are both alike” to surrogate fathers to taking a look at yourself and making that change, the structure and dynamics of the film scream complete storyform. Centuries from now, students of theoretical narrative will look back on this movie as a watershed moment in the history of storytelling.
Or, they may just laugh at the line “Iron Man sucks.”
Don't miss out on the latest in narrative theory and storytelling with artificial intelligence. Subscribe to the Narrative First newsletter below and receive a link to download the 20-page e-book, Never Trust a Hero.