Saturday, October 11, 2008
WALL-E -- pure love, robot-style
Director Andrew Stanton, 2008.
With WALL-E Pixar has, if possible, surpassed itself. It set the bar high with earlier movies like Ratatouille and The Incredibles that had wonderful stories and superb animation. But here the animation is simply stunning. Especially in the first half where the movie is set on a desolate and empty earth, it appears so realistic it is at times easy to forget this is an animated movie. Further, the story is simple yet profound, a pure love story between two robots. Moreover, for the first 40 minutes there is no human dialogue. This is as close as it comes to a silent film in the present age. And it works so well. The visual imagery and absolutely spot-on soundtrack makes this a pleasure to watch and enjoy.
At the start of the film, the earth is a wasteland. It is a void, not formless and void as in Genesis, but ruined and left destitute by the trash discarded by its ex-inhabitants. All humans have left, more than 700 years earlier. The mega-multinational company Buy-N-Large (BnL: play on words -- you buy and you become large) has enabled so much senseless consumerism that the earth is one giant land-fill. All that is left is a robot named WALL-E, who goes around compacting the trash in an effort to clean things up.
This WALL-E is unlike other models or versions. Over time, he has become a collector, a pack-rat of sorts. As he sifts through the garbage, he saves small treasures, such as a Rubik's cube, plastic cutlery, and the video game "pong". But his pride and joy is a videotape of "Hello Dolly" which he watches on an old iPod. Somehow, he has developed a personality with emotions. Indeed, he has a pet cockroach that he cares for and takes with him on his journeys.
When a spaceship deposits another robot on earth, WALL-E's life is irreversibly changed. One look at EVE, with her shiny white egg-like shape (any coincidence that the female robot looks like an egg?), and he is smitten. This is love at first-sight. Whereas Love in the Time of Cholera gave a human picture of this kind of love but in an over-sexualized manner, WALL-E presents it in a pure and unadulterated way. Without words, it is a beautiful picture. WALL-E is naive but a romantic at heart, having learned of love from "Hello Dolly," and acts like a coy teenager trying to win EVE over.
After WALL-E shows EVE the solitary green plant he has discovered, EVE takes it and stores it in her shell and shuts down. As a probe, her mission has been to search for evidence of life on earth, and here she has found it. In a selfless act of protection (and love), WALL-E shields her from the elements while waiting for her to reboot. But when her spaceship returns to take her away, WALL-E hangs on to the outside and hitch-hikes across the galaxy while the ship takes them both to Axiom.
Axiom, the jewel of the BnL fleet, is the spaceship that set out on a 5 year voyage and has been travelling for 700 years, filled with the remainder of humankind. But time has not been kind to them. Because they have been "maided on 24 hours a day" by the fully automated crew and thus "enjoying" non-stop entertainment, fine dining, and constant hover-chairs, they no longer needed to walk. In fact, they do not know how to walk. Nor do they know what real life is all about. Spending their days on these chairs, lazy and obese, they interact with one another via virtual screens in front of them. Though a person may be next to them, they speak to the electronic image in front of them. They do not know the pleasures of real relationship. They had never enjoyed the simple touch of another's hand.
As WALL-E plays out its second half, WALL-E tracks EVE down and saves her from the reprogramming center. While her mission is to take the plant to the captain, WALL-E's self-defined mission is to win her heart and hold her hand. When the bloated captain sees the plant, he realizes he now has a new mission: "Out there is our home - Home, AUTO! - and it's in trouble. I can't just sit here and do nothing. That's all I've ever done! That's all anyone has ever done on this blasted ship - nothing!" When the auto-pilot, AUTO, disagrees saying, "In space we will survive" the captain retorts, "I don't want to survive, I want to live!" But AUTO rebels and takes control, leaving the humans to finally rise up, literally, to save the plant, the symbol of hope and the future.
Much has been said of the ecological references. We know the earth must be stewarded; that is a clear biblical mandate from Genesis 1:26-31 and 2:15. We sow pollution and waste and harvest devastation and despoilment. Much has been said, too, of the searing judgment of rampant consumerism in WALL-E. In America, consumerism is a religion; it is for the 21st century western peoples the opiate of the masses.
More interesting is the issue of living versus surviving. The consumer-travellers on the "utopia"-like Axiom take it as axiomatic that life is for fun and entertainment. Through constant recline their bodies have grown fat and unusable. They "enjoy" life via virtual reality. Ironically, this animated movie is lampooning the virtual electronic lifestyle. But these people are not living, they are merely surviving. They are not enjoying life as it was meant to be. They are enjoying a false imitation. Only when the captain sees fresh new life, does he realize he is not living. He has been going nowhere, doing nothing, merely spinning his wheels. He has been wasting his life. John Piper, in his book "Don't Waste Your Life," points out the need to live our lives missionally and intentionally. We only enjoy life as we truly have life, life in Jesus (John 10:10). And we only enjoy life as we glorify God and live to make his name known. Are we living for the goal of a trouble-free retirement so we can be entertained in our favorite ways?
Fundamental to WALL-E, though, is the picture of love. This is a love story through and through. Since the language skills of the robots, and WALL-E in particular, are limited, Director Stanton decided to use the scene of hand-holding in "Hello Dolly" as the metaphor for love. This is how WALL-E has learned to say "I love you." So, throughout the film he yearns to hold hands with EVE and is kept from doing so. Eventually, after his love has caused him to protect EVE and to follow her to infinity and beyond, this self-sacrificing love is repaid. He gets to hold her hand. Then when he is kissed by her, he literally does cart-wheels. On his space-walk with her, he is shown to be head-over-heels in love. What a beautiful way to show love. Indeed, after this robot pair experience the pleasure of hand-holding, two humans inadvertently touch hands and find a similar joy in simple touch. Humanity imitating technology!
WALL-E reminds us of love and the pleasures of touch. Life is for living and for loving. As WALL-E gave himself away for EVE, so Jesus gave himself away for us. Are we doing likewise? How well are we loving? How far will we go to show this love to our spouse? WALL-E is an animated parable that love does indeed conquer all.
Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM