The (Accidental) Philosophy of The Boss Baby – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on The Boss Baby!
Written & Directed by: Michael Luxemburg
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Mark Potts
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Emily Dunbar
The (Accidental) Philosophy of The Boss Baby – Wisecrack Edition
Hey, Wisecrack. Jared, here. It all started when someone at the office said, “Jared. You gotta watch The Boss Baby.” So, I did. And then, perhaps reluctantly, we covered it on our movie podcast, Show Me The Meaning! And, yes, shameless plug — check it out using the link in the description. And let me tell you – something odd happens to you when you spend hours thinking about The Boss Baby. Soon, it became a semi-ironic obsession. And then, after it got nominated for an Oscar, we said, “F**k it! We have to do a video on The Boss Baby.” So, we’re doing something a little different today. It’s not that The Boss Baby is a deliberate and nuanced exploration of childhood psychology. It’s more: holy shit, this movie accidentally shows how the way we currently think about love is not only ruining us, but our future children. So, if you thought the Tide Pod challenge was bad for kids, strap in for this Wisecrack Edition on The Boss Baby. And as always, and if you care: spoilers ahead. Let’s start with a recap. Tim is living a perfect childhood with his family. It’s nothing but imaginary adventures, and expensively licensed lullabies — “Blackbird singing in the dead of night.” Until… the baby shows up.
Suddenly, Tim’s parents need to spread the love around, and Tim finds himself struggling with not being the center of attention. “What about me?!” Tim learns that this is no ordinary baby — it’s an Oscar Nominated Boss Baby. It can talk, hold meetings, and eat solid food. At first, Tim tries to expose the baby’s bossy ways, thinking a besuited baby might freak his parents out enough that they… I dunno throw the baby away or something. But the boss baby isn’t going out like that and outwits Tim at every turn. Tim learns the baby is only around to foil Puppy Co.’s mysterious new puppy that threatens to make babies obsolete, somehow. So, he agrees to help. Tim and the Oscar Nominated Boss Baby sneak into Puppy Co. to conduct some corporate espionage. Their madcap adventure goes off the rails, and they end up in Las Vegas saving their parents from a rocket ship with the help of a tidal wave of puppies. It’s weird. So, what’s the movie really about? Well, the short answer is easy. It’s about love. Tim wants his parents’ love, The Boss Baby wants to win the market share of love back from those gosh dang puppies, and the villain wants to steal love away from babies. “No one will ever want a baby ever, ever again!”
It all comes back to love. In the end, Tim and The Boss Baby have a delightful reunion when they realize that love is not a finite resource; there’s enough for everyone. Now, that’s a nice message and all, but anyone who’s ever had a high school crush knows we don’t always get the love we want. Now, I know — who cares? A silly kids’ movie has a reductive view on love, so what? Well, this view on love isn’t just simplistic. Some might call it dangerous. Like known weirdo, and everyone’s second favorite psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan. One of Lacan’s fundamental ideas is the idea of Lack. In short, Lacan says that we spend our lives looking for meaning, unity, and peace, but those aren’t real things. We’re never going to find them, and the desperate search for them is what makes people neurotic. We develop social and psychological disorders to cope with the fact that despite how badly we want life to be perfect, it never will be. And it’s this lack that defines Tim’s struggle in the film. For Lacan, it all starts with a childhood trauma called “the mirror stage.” When we’re babies we don’t really know what the hell is going on around us, but everything is awesome. We’re fed, we’re taken care of, and it’s all good, but eventually we see ourselves in a mirror and realize we’re not part of a comfy, cozy world, but just one little being in a giant world. That realization hurts. It’s when we realize we’re on our own. We see this phenomenon play out in Boss Baby too, albeit a little differently. Tim is naive to the fact that the world doesn’t cater to his every need until the Boss Baby shows up, and he is traumatized. Suddenly, the world isn’t all about Tim, his parents only have a finite amount of love to give —
“Mom and Dad don’t even know you! They love me!” “Oh, yeah? Do the math, kid. There is only so much love to go around. It’s… like these beads: you used to have all your parents love, all their time, all their attention, you had all the beads… but then I came along. Babies take up a lot of time. They need a lot of attention. They get all the love.” “We could share.” “You obviously didn’t go to business school.”
This theory that there isn’t enough love for everyone is the foundation of every Oscar-nominated choice the Boss Baby makes. Tim tries to live with the baby. But he can’t — it f**kin’ sucks — so, he tries to expose him, so his parents will get rid of him. No dice. He even jumps over a train and sneaks onto an Elvis-themed flight to Vegas, all to make this baby go away. Why? Because the baby interrupted his notion of how love works. “Life was good. Life was perfect. But as I drifted off to sleep, something my parents said got me thinking: where do babies come from?”
No matter how much this feeling of having your ideal reality shattered may suck, it’s an essential stage of human development. However, instead of having Tim move past this difficult stage, the film doubles down on his childish fantasy – suggesting that love, is, in fact, infinite. Tim writes a letter to the Boss Baby saying that there’s plenty of love for both of them, as long as they have each other. It’s heartwarming. But for Lacan, desire for love, or anything else, is insatiable because the world will never be perfect. It is the inevitable outcome of lack. We’ll never have the flawless, complete life we want, so we focus on specific things as objects of desires, or on individual problems as the source of our suffering. In other words, Tim’s idea that love can, or should be, infinite, is a fantasy. And boy, does Tim love fantasy. Throughout the movie we see him creating fantasies to represent the world around him. He uses those fantasies to entertain himself, to show his feelings, and to grapple with with how love works. In the end, we learn the whole movie is just a story adult Tim is relaying to his daughter to prepare her for a sibling on the way. “Is that a true story, Daddy?” “Well, sweetie, that’s how I remember it! But you know what I found out?” “What?” “There’s plenty of love for everyone.”
Lacan might say this poses a few issues. By creating this bizarre narrative about a ruthless corporate baby who threatens to close on all the market share of love in his family unit, Tim is essentially demonizing his little brother to deal with the fact that love is not, in fact, infinite. But whether finite or not, we’re always going to want more, and we’ll never get all the love we want. This targeting of a single cause for all our problems is something that Lacanian scholars, and also regular people, refer to as “scapegoating.” In the case of the family, we develop neuroses to cope with the feelings of isolation that start with the mirror stage. Or we fabricate a story about a giant corporation of babies to justify hating our little brother.
We see the same thing happen with the villain Francis Francis, formerly super colossal big fat boss baby. He becomes an evil psychopath and tries to steal love from all babies, because his fantasy of staying a baby forever is taken away from him, and he blames all other babies. This is what happens when we expect a perfect world and don’t get what we want. We act like babies. But not necessarily the oscar-nominated kind. And then Tim does quite possibly the most irresponsible thing ever: he passes his fantasy, and all the neurotic baggage that comes with it, on to his daughter. Inundating your daughter with the idea that your basic desires will always be fulfilled is… well, not great. That will probably lead to some issues down the line… like whatever happened to this kid: “Dude, you’re blue collar as f**k, like, get the f**k out of my face. You make no money. Look, what are you wearing? You’re disgusting.”
So, what’s the deal? Is it just that love is another one of the many things we’re programmed to want, but doomed to never get enough of? “Not so fast,” Lacan might say. There’s in fact a secret way around the problem of love and fantasy, and it’s also hidden in the Oscar Nominated story of The Boss Baby. What the movie’s ending gets right is that the love between the brothers is the healthiest relationship we see in the movie, but that’s not because love is infinite. Instead, it’s because love depends on showing us how much we’re missing. “You don’t even know what it’s like to be a part of a family!” “And you don’t know what it’s like to have a job!” Lacan famously referred to love as “to give what one does not have.” When we love someone, we reflect their Lack back to them. We show them what they are missing, and for Lacan that confrontation with Lack is far more psychologically curative than covering over our desires with fantasies and scapegoats. If we accept that definition of love, it’s hard to argue that the brothers don’t live up to it. From the very beginning they’re positioned not just as opposites, but as complementary. Boss Baby is practical, but Tim is a dreamer. The Boss Baby writes memos, Tim takes action. Tim has experienced love and values it immensely. Boss Baby has never been loved, and isn’t too worried about it. “I may look like a baby, but I was born all grown up.” “You never had someone to love you?” “Well, you can’t miss what you never had.”
They each cover the other’s flaws and reflect them back to each other in a way that helps them both grow and save the day. It’s the Boss Baby’s motivational skills that keep Tim on his bike once he loses the training wheels. “The path to success is not a straight line, Templeton, but rather a wild ride!” And it’s Tim’s imagination that allows them to defeat Francis Francis, in the end. By showing the other what they’re missing, and embodying those values, they help each other grow into more well-rounded and healthy individuals. For Lacan love isn’t meant to fill the gaps we feel in our lives. The attempt to make life perfect is exactly what leads to neurosis and pathology and all kinds of other messy things. Instead, love shows us what we’re missing and makes it okay, because we see what is missing in someone else. Maybe it seems like we’re going a little overboard on a movie about a baby who is, somehow, paradoxically, a boss, but this is an important lesson. Real life is full of disappointment, and few, if any, things live up to the world we imagine, but that’s no reason to get depressed. All you need to do is realize that things aren’t gonna be perfect. Not everyone gets nominated for an Oscar, and once you see that imperfection reflected in the world around you… it’s really not so bad. Thanks, Wisecrack. And before you go…