Lightning McQueen: What To Do With Freedom

by Movie Reviews and Recommendations

A few days ago I was feeling a little down and wanted to find a movie to lift my spirit and provide some encouragement and hope. I went with the Pixar classic Cars, and as you may guess, it did not disappoint.

I’ve always thought Lightning McQueen had a brilliant character arc, so it was a great experience to watch him grow and be moved in a new way this time around. Whenever I watch a movie, I usually note the moments when an especially powerful response is evoked within me. After it’s over, I reflect on why I might have reacted that way. This reflection I am now sharing is a result of this process.

Lightning is about halfway done repaving the road he destroyed when Sally begins to fill him up with gas… without the boot that keeps him from driving away before finishing the job. The rest of the residents of Radiator Springs are immediately concerned, worried Lightening will drive off. And he does, but not in the direction they thought he would. Sally invites Lightening for a drive, and with his newfound freedom, he has a choice to make. His decision launches him toward a more fulfilling life, a freer life.

Best of Sally And Lighting

What Is Freedom?

What do I mean? Well, what is freedom? The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines freedom as “the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility” (CCC 1731). We all have this power, albeit at varying degrees in varying circumstances, but at each place, we are given the choice of what to do. It would be false to believe the finality of our freedom culminates in the satisfaction of our own interests and pleasures, and we see Lightning test the validity of this assertion (CCC 1740). He pulls out onto Route 66 with a tank full of gas and glances toward the highway. He has an Exodus moment; he can either return to Egypt and to slavery, or he can take a risk and drive toward the land which has promised to be flowing with milk and honey. He can say no to a life all about him and explore an even greater yes. And so, he takes a drive. He goes on a cruise with Sally not to make good time, but to have a good time.

On his drive where he has nowhere to be, where he has slowed down for perhaps the first time in his life, he is able to be pierced by beauty. In exercising his freedom rightly, he is awakened to the beauty of Sally and the landscape around him, to the story of Route 66 and Radiator Springs. He is awakened to something more, and it calls him out of himself.

Soon after this excursion, he finishes repaving the road, and once again is free. He is free to leave. He has fulfilled his obligation to the town, and given them what was due. But in his freedom, he chooses another route (Route 66 to be specific). He has tasted what life can be when he lives for more than just himself and he wants more of it. He wants freedom, and “the more one does what is good, the freer one becomes” (CCC 1733). So he stays and uses his freedom to help Radiator Springs, to help bring it the same renewal it has brought to his soul.

In a final, brilliant display of that for which our freedom is meant to be used, Lightning sacrifices the Piston Cup, just feet away from the finish line. Why would he do this? How could he do this? I’ll leave you to consider the former on your own for I wish to discuss the later. I’d like to propose that Lightning was able to stop and help The King to the finish line because he was free to do so, and he was free to do so because over the course of his time in Radiator Springs, he became not just a better man/car, but a better racer.

Our freedom is not meant to be used only for ourselves. In fact, it’s there primarily so we can make a gift of ourselves for others. Becoming the fullness of who we are made to be, wherever we are called to be, gives us freedom. Lightning might not have been able to push The King home if he hadn’t learned how to drive backward from Mater, or how to drift from Doc. He might have wrecked or been too far back to do anything. But, because he did, he was freer to choose the good that was before him, to make a gift of himself. Mastery of his craft gives him freedom.

Well, that’s all I got. Hopefully, my somewhat scattered thoughts on freedom as prompted by a children’s movie leave you with some thoughts of your own. And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1). So, the question is, what will we do with our freedom?

This article was originally published HERE. Find more commentaries on media and culture at More Than Entertained.

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