The Dangers of Nostalgia in ‘The Incredibles’

In Classic Film Throwback Series, Featured, Reviews, Sam Hendrian by Samuel Hendrian

This article is part of our Classic Film Throwback series

– By Sam Hendrian –

“Ah, those were the days.” Whether these words are uttered by a wistful grandparent, a midlife crisis-plagued adult looking through an old yearbook, or a bunch of high schoolers reminiscing about the ease of elementary school, they ring with a mixture of humor and regret. Why must happy times become mere memories rather than eternal realities? This question is brilliantly addressed in Disney/Pixar’s now-classic animated superhero film The Incredibles.

Bob Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible, once lived a life of excitement and fame as he employed his super-strength to rescue civilians from villainous threats. But after politicians deemed superhero “antics” to be a threat to the natural order of civilization, he was forced to hang up the cape and settle down with his equally super-powered family.

Fifteen years later, Bob works a dead-end job at a life insurance company and longs for the return of the “Glory Days” when he was a popular crime-fighting hero. As much as he enjoys being a husband and father of three kids, he feels there is a dormant part of his soul that will never be awake until he starts saving the world again. When his wife Helen scolds him for a secret rescue mission gone awry, he laments, “Reliving the glory days is better than pretending they never happened!” She retorts:

“Yes! They happened, but this—our family—is what’s happening now, Bob! And you’re missing this!”

While we may not be able to specifically connect with Bob’s super-powered midlife crisis, the sentiments that both he and Helen express are universally relatable. If memories help form the fabric of our lives, is it not okay and even important that we relive them? Are “reliving” and “remembering” in the same conceptual ballpark, or are they two entirely different actions? The problem with the phrase “reliving” is that it invades the sacred privacy of the word “living.” Bob cannot live a life of self-sacrifice for his children if his heart dwells in a period of time before they existed. Helen knows this, and her warning, “You’re missing this!” gradually strikes Bob with the inherent poignancy of truth.

Bob’s resolve to be more present in the, well, present is quickly shattered when a mysterious woman gives him the opportunity to come out of superhero exile and fight a sinister robot. This opportunity turns into a trap, prompting Helen and the kids to defy the legal sanctions on their superpowers and fly to his rescue. It humbles Bob’s pride to be on the receiving end of heroism, but he manages to express gratitude and also has an epiphany: he can reignite the Glory Days with his family. After all, they are each superheroes too, and their various strengths are ingredients for a perfect crime-fighting cake. Paradoxically, while battling evil with his family, he realizes that the joy of being a good husband and father trumps the thrill of saving the world.

The dangers of nostalgia threaten each of our lives no matter how old we are. When the future appears grim, and the present is flooded with stress, we may find ourselves instinctively echoing Paul McCartney by singing, “Yesterday/All my troubles seemed so far away…” Perhaps an aspect of this wistful lyric is true, but we cannot allow it to blind us from the bountiful blessings that exist today. The Incredibles serves as an effective and entertaining reminder of this truth. As Edna Mode says at one point in the film, “I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.” These are wise words that we should all strive to model lest we transform into metaphorical pillars of salt.

About the Author

Sam Hendrian is a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University (Class of 2019) pursuing an emphasis in Directing.

For more articles by Sam, click here.