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August 4, 2008

9

WALL-E – a great dystopia for all the family

by quaesitor

Went to see Wall-E on Saturday with the kids – bizarrely we went in the morning as we were expecting folks to come in the afternoon and it was raining, and we’d promised we’d go (it all felt a bit wrong to go to a cinema in the morning, but was fun and felt sort of rebellious). Anyway I’m a total fan. It’s beautifully made, visually stunning, and weirdly engaging (I mean it’s actually pretty surprising to find yourself emotionally caught up in a relationship between two robots who don’t talk but that’s exactly what happens). But the reason I felt a blog coming on as I sat there goggle-eyed at 11 in the morning is that it is absolutely chock-a-bloc with illustrations and provocations, as in fact are all the best Pixar films (which i suppose is what makes them so widely enjoyed)

Of course, some have gone so far as to suggest that it is to family films what Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth is to documentaries. Well, there are a lot of strong messages on this line:

  • The Mess the World is in: the earth has been deserted because of callous human expoitation and (to put a more theological spin on it) a total failure to fulfil the creation mandate of stewardship. There is of course lots of debate about the arguments pro or con global warming, and we mere non-scientific mortals can feel like punchbags in the war of words. Whatever the case, though, it is surely absoultely inexcusable not to be good stewards – which surely means reforming our throw-away society at the very least. The hero is simply a robot programmed to clear up the mess (his name stands for: Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class)
  • The real must be better than the virtual: humanity has been reduced to orbiting goggle-eyed tele-addicted lardcakes, so much so that they are unable to walk unaided, and are completely oblivious of their surroundings (in their hedonistic virtual paradise). [And there we were watching a film in the morning]. Plenty of illustrations of this – eg the thousands who live within their galactic paradise, but are so fixated with what’s on the little screens on their floating deckchairs, that they fail to see the beauties of the cosmos outside or to notice the fact that they have been lying by a beautiful swimming pool for decades. It reminded me of Neil Postman’s analysis of the differences between Orwell’s 1984 (where people are ruled by fear) and Huxley’s Brave New World (in which people are controlled by pleasure). The film doesn’t fully develop this of course (it is a family dystopia after all!) but it doesn’t take much imagination to see where it can go – especially with the omnipresent and omnipotent multi-galactic corporation Buy-n-Large looming large.
  • The robotification and mod-conification of their universe then has deprived these human beings of their humanity – they never touch, they never see, they never think, they never really need to learn. They just exist within a world swamped by pleasure. Does that sound familiar? The irony is that Wall-E and his love interest Eve learn how to love from decrepit video tapes of a Michael Crawford and Barbara Streisand (singing in Hello Dolly!) of all things. And they then are the catalysts for human beings being able to relearn the art.

But here’s where it gets interesting:

  • Noah’s Ark: the spaceship on which humanity lives is called Axiom (interesting name – would be interested to hear why you think it is). In preserving the human race in the face of ecological disaster, it has parallels I guess with Noah’s Ark. But it is not a perfect fit – not least because it is a man-made solution to a man-made problem, rather than a God-given solution to a man-made problem. But what it did make me think of more (perhaps because I’m currently immersed in Isaiah for a number of talks next week) was the parallels with the Babylonian Exile.
  • Babylon: the people go into exile because of their rank and rampant injustice, idolatry and spiritual hard-heartedness. They simply don’t care about what’s right or wrong, or about the consequences of their actions (eg Isaiah 5). The result of which is political chaos, invasion and agricultural carnage. They are then carted off into Exile. It is a problem of their own making. The only hope is for a miracle.
  • A Miracle: In Isaiah 7, 9 & 11, the miracle is promised – a child who will be a sign, a light in darkness and a seedling of life amidst a barren wasteland and descrated forest. Without giving too much away, this is not dissimilar to what happens in the film. And the result of this miraculous life enables the beginning of the future – for humanity can return to start rebuilding their lives, homes and world. Very small beginnings in the film of course – there is a VERY long way to go. But my hunch is that the way the characters feel in the movie is not unlike how the first returning Exiles felt about reaching the crumbled walls and residue of Jerusalem (after Cyrus’ decree).

But for all its gloss and beauty, humour and character, this film is pretty dark – it really is a dystopia that bizarrely enough provides fun for all the family (we were all in stitches at various points). And there is nothing wrong with dystopias – especially if they jolt people into thinking about reality. And in fact, there is something almost prophetic about it (in the OT sense of the word). The prophets are always going on about ‘if you carry on like this… you’ll end up like that…’

Who ever said that was not a message that children let alone adults should not hear or heed?

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Liz Halliday
    Aug 5 2008

    Very interesting analysis – great to see you are keeping up the thinking and communicating. Do you think 6 year olds would like the film (they do get quite easily scared)?

    Reply
  2. Aug 6 2008

    Hi Liz – well, we took our 7 year old and she certainly didn’t find it scary. The main problem arose because of its minimal dialogue and subtle forms of communication – so we found ourselves having to explain things quite a lot along the way, and there were parts that for a 7-yr old would seem quite slow (although for grownups they are sometimes the most powerful bits). But for all that, there were easily enough laughs and gags to keep us all happy…
    hope that helps
    Mark

    Reply
  3. Aug 8 2008

    Off to see the film with my (7-year-old) son in half-an-hour, so will report back, but thanks for the great primer Mark… :o)

    Reply
  4. Aug 8 2008

    …loved it. I’ll post on it properly over the weekend (hopefully), but it was refreshing to watch a ‘kids film’ that didn’t play for gags, use ‘celebrity voices’, ironic self-mockery, lots of film references etc, but let the love story (for love story it primarily is, alongside the environment / humanity in a mess theme) carry the weight it deserves. It actually takes itself pretty seriously and (more or less) gets away with it… though the ending is a little bit ‘pat’.

    Great stuff – and my boy loved it too! :o)

    Reply
  5. Aug 10 2008

    Hello Mark,

    Wow, what an in-depth and detailed review. My favorite comment is the description of post-apocalyptic humanity as “orbiting goggle-eyed tele-addicted lardcakes”. I would not be surprised to see a band pop up soon with that name. I also liked your ending sentiment that encourages the idea of raising children who will think carefully and thoughtfully about their future, instead of sugar coating it.

    I hope you don’t mind if I share a little Wall-E”ism of my own. It doesn’t have an important message, it’s just a bit of fun. It’s a 90 second video I made of Wall-E playing the piano and going on a new adventure I call ?Flight Of The Wall-E Bee”:

    Reply
  6. Aug 11 2008

    We went to the 3 o’clock matinee showing on Saturday – it was raining where we live too and the cinema was full of like-minded families.

    My daughter is 6 and she was a little scared/upset when WALL-E was in danger or being abused by “the baddies”… but it didn’t leave her traumatised.

    I really enjoyed the movie – like Mark says, it is weird to find yourself so emotionally caught up with a pair of cartoon robots (at the end, when WALL-E finally recognises Eve – I was sniffing!! *).

    On the other hand, my wife thought it was a load of old tosh.

    * I don’t think this is too much of a spoiler. Apologies if it is😦

    Reply
  7. Caron
    Aug 11 2008

    I saw this last week and thought it was great. Like many ‘kids’ films it had lots which goes right over their heads but keeps their parents interested! I look forward to seeing it on DVD – there are so many background things that are easy to miss the first time. Loved the squashed beverage in the helmet for instance!

    Reply
  8. Aug 13 2008

    I was sold when I heard it described by one critic as ‘environmentalist, anticapitalist, and anti-technological propaganda’. Sounded like a winner to me.

    Reply

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