I think I heard a whoosh

I think I heard a whoosh.

This is currently my favourite movie quote of the year. Possibly of the decade. It comes from The Lego Movie, 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (leading movie critic website).

After we’d watched The Lego Movie, this was the one quote which tickled both my children and I more than any other. And believe me, the film was so full of great lines that we were spoilt for choice. However, there was something about this line, I think I heard a whoosh, which touched our funny bones more than all the others. On a side note, there are few things in life which bring me more joy than exchanging amusing movie quotes with my children. They do it a lot between themselves, but when I am allowed to join in, I love it. Absolutely love it.

So, I think I heard a whoosh. What is it about that line which attracted me? I thought for a while and then the penny dropped. Here are some of my thoughts.

First, the word whoosh is pretty funny. It’s onomatopoeic, of course, but so is ‘crash’ and that’s not funny. No, there’s more to it than that. The amusement value surely comes from its use in this particular sentence. In the movie, it’s uttered by Emmett, who is our main ‘regular-guy-hero’ character. He hears something speeding by making what can only be described as a whooshing sound. And so you might think the phrase, ‘I think I heard a whoosh,’ would be expected.

But it’s not. Here’s why.

You see, I don’t think whoosh is generally a word which people say. It’s normally reserved for children’s books and comics. In a similar situation to Emmett’s, we would probably say ‘What was that?’ or ‘What was that sound?’ We wouldn’t say ‘I think I heard a whoosh.’ And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the phrase is funny. It contains a funny-sounding word in a sentence where it would never normally be used.

Why is it there?

I mentioned that whoosh is used by writers of comics and children’s books. It’s used by story-tellers. In addition, whoosh is the kind of word used by children during imaginative play. ‘Whoosh’ declares Tommy as he launches his ‘rocket’ – made of a loo roll and plastic sticks – towards the ceiling. He’s describing what’s taking place in his story. He’s a story-teller. Sure, it’s certainly possible that we might say the word whoosh, but it’s a word which is far more commonly used by story-tellers.

Let’s return to The Lego Movie. It’s a film which uses several well-worn movie tropes. They are used so often, we instantly recognize the formula. For example, it has goodies and baddies. It has a hero who grows in self-confidence, discovering that he can be extraordinary if he believes in himself. Been there before. It starts with a dystopian vision of society. The situation looks hopeless before someone does something heroic which saves the day. Seen all of this many times.

But it also has a trope which I absolutely love and which is tagged specifically by this phrase, I think I heard a whoosh. I call it, ‘story-within-a-story,’ though I can’t find its exact definition anywhere. In The Lego Movie, we discover that the lego world we’ve been watching symbolically reflects a story between two ‘creators’ on the outside. There are two worlds and they are related, although the exact connection between the two worlds is left vague, which works well.

It might even be called a creation motif.

This is when characters self-consciously reflect on the fact that they are ‘characters.’ They are someone else’s creation. This sometimes happens in movies when a character will turn towards the camera and smile or wink. Because this breaks our ‘suspension of disbelief,’ it is done very rarely and it is never done well, in my opinion. In The Lego Movie, on the other hand, it is done quite brilliantly. And it begins with the line,

I think I heard a whoosh.

It is almost as though Emmett is saying ‘I’ll use a word used by story-tellers to indicate that I’m a character in a story.’ Later on in the film, the character Lucy, (his love-interest, AKA WyldStyle) engages in the same kind of language. She’s describing who she is and then suddenly you hear her say . . . blah, blah, blah. Proper name. Place name. Backstory stuff… Excuse me? Backstory stuff? Another indication that she’s self-consciously telling us that she’s a character in a story.

Now, why do I love these kinds of movies so much? Here’s why.

Because I’m in one. And so are you. And the idea that film-makers ‘get this,’ whether consciously or unconsciously, is thrilling to me.

A movie by M. Night Shyamalan called Lady in the Water contains a very similar idea. It’s a film in which characters discover they’re in a fairy tale. A Problem presents itself and they must discover what part they need to play in the fairy tale in order to resolve the Problem. Resolving the Problem brings Resolution and it brings tears to the eyes. The movie had its critics – some justified – but the central idea was fabulous. Think about it. A story about people who have to work out which characters they need to play in order for the story to reach its glorious resolution. A story-within-a-story.

A movie about people who themselves realize they’re in a story.

Wow. A true reflection of our reality.

For we are people who discover that we are in a Story. And we’re called on to discover what part we must play for the Story to reach its glorious resolution. To discover which is your part, you might want to consult 1 Corinthians 12.

Of course, the movies don’t reflect every aspect of our reality. For example, half way through The Lego Movie, Emmett and two other characters enter his brain. It’s very Matrix-like, consciously so, I think. A huge finger reaches down and we’re given the first clear indication of a Creator character. It turns out that this Creator isn’t good and kind at all. He threatens their future. Yet the very fact that we’re given two worlds, the world of the Creator(s) (there are two of them) and the world of the Lego characters is wondrous to behold.

It’s a welcome reminder that we too are in a Story. And our little stories – our lives – will only make sense when seen in reference to the one Big Story. All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players, wrote William Shakespeare. So this idea is hardly new.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller. That’s a great line.

But he would surely have been prouder of this one, had he written it:

I think I heard a whoosh!

© Richard Collins 2014


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