WALL-E - Value In Responsibility

Thoughts On: WALL-E (2008)

The only working robot cleaner on an abandoned Earth follows a scout robot to one of the last remaining populations of people drifting through space in a star cruiser.

WALL-E is a film I struggle over just a little bit. For the opening, I want to say that this is a truly great movie. However, everything beyond the first 30-odd minutes, whilst it is far from terrible, doesn't capture the essence of what came before, which brings into question the 'greatness' of this movie. This is why I've always felt like WALL-E could be turned off and be done with after the first act. Again, this isn't to say that the majority of WALL-E is terrible - it's just not as good as the opening. In such, whilst there are a few nice characters and a handful of beautiful sequences (namely, the dance through space) found throughout the second and third act, the charm of pure cinematic storytelling, the magic of the dystopian aesthetics and the enchantment of being alone with our two protagonists is certainly lost. In fact, I wouldn't say that the beauty of the opening is lost, rather, it was sacrificed for the sake of some world building and the construction of a social commentary which unfortunately doesn't pay off. Before getting further into this, however, let's discuss exactly what WALL-E is about.

In short, and as we all could pick up on, WALL-E is about human waste and pollution. This commentary depicts both the consequences of neglect upon the Earth as well as the evolution of people who harbour that neglect at the core of their societal structure. And so, this is what the population on the Axiom represents:

The passengers aboard this ship have no true sense of the physical world, rather, the projected world of human materialism - they are consumed by an empty axiom; a statement for being that is meaningless. This is why they are all guided through life by automation. In fact, the world that these people live in seems to be an impossible one. Not only does no one work, instead, consume automated, advertised mush, but they all pump their waste into the ether...

What is especially funny about the manner in which this waste is expelled into space is the organised fashion in which it is done. If the waste system was at all efficient, it would not involve the giant WALL-As; all waste shoots would lead directly onto a conveyor belt that would lead into this vacuum chamber that would then blast the unorganised waste into space. After all, how much of a difference is there between waste squashed into cubes and waste in a pile? Well, this is a good, even complex, question that we will return to. However, in context of blasting waste out into space, there is no difference; people have design a system that seems organised, but is rather a facade for everything poisonous about their society to comfortably hide behind. In such, when we return to the passengers aboard the Axiom...

... we have to ask how much longer will they last. They've been in space, throwing all of their waste behind them with no signs of recycling, for 700 years. How long until the stack of cups and stores of 'food' are done? It seems they should have ran out hundreds of years ago as there is no implication of some kind of replenishment system (I'd hate to see where all the sewage goes - maybe into the food?), and such leaves this whole ship a paradox, a plot hole, of this narrative's design. However, beyond being paradoxical, what this detail seems to define is the endless consumption that this societal structure is based upon as they perpetually distract themselves from reality.

There isn't just critique in this narrative, however. If we return to the question, "how much of a difference is there between waste squashed into cubes and waste in a pile?", we are urged to return to the opening:

To build up to answering our question, we have to start with a realisation that this narrative lets time slip by as if it means very little. The evidence for this is certainly the work that WALL-E has done. Whilst we cannot know how long he alone has been building these structures, if he were to make even some of them, he would have to work for years, maybe decades, maybe centuries. And we know for a fact that the WALL-E robots were activated at least 700 years ago. But, to assume that WALL-E is a somewhat average robot without particularly unique programming, we are faced with an essential question with this image:

Why is WALL-E the only robot in his region - in the world maybe? If all the robots had something of a personality and some shade of artificial intelligence much like every other robot in this narrative does, why did every other WALL-E bot stop working? The fact seems to be...

... they stopped re-charging themselves. And this is certainly where things start to get dark; every other WALL-E robot apart from our protagonist committed suicide. Why? Well, this is where we must confront our question: how much of a difference is there between waste squashed into cubes and waste in a pile? The hundreds of other WALL-E bots saw no difference, thus, they had no purpose, no reason to charge themselves every morning and go to work.

And it's at this point that the personification of WALL-E becomes something entirely transcendent of basic novelty. We all laugh at this scene where WALL-E wakes up because we all feel groggy in the morning. But, we can imagine that this was life for every other robot that lived in the racks beside our WALL-E bot. They woke up every morning, groggy, just as we do, and, after 100s of years, they decided to, essentially, stop making breakfast and let their daily work routine kill them.

As a result, it's very clear that they stopped seeing the purpose in their work; they saw no need to turn piles of trash into neater cubes that form greater structures - a clear metaphoric parallel drawn to the menial jobs people do every day. This turn to nihilism and suicide applied to every other robot apart from our protagonist. This seems to be because WALL-E not only finds apparent purpose in his job, but he manages to find value and preciousness in his responsibility:

It is because WALL-E sees beauty amongst literal trash that he becomes, in a certain sense, immortal. And this allows WALL-E to transcend into something much more profound than just a little cute robot; he is the encapsulation of all that makes humanity great. Not only does WALL-E construct, not only is he a builder, but he is, if you choose to see him as such, an artist that gives meaning to all that he constructs. This is the beauty of this little robot. He not only materialises into being much of humanity's greatest attributes, but he continues to do this whilst humanity has given up...

So, the immortality that the 700-year-old WALL-E represents is the perpetual spirit of human creation and ingenuity that the last remaining populations of ourselves have separated themselves from. What our little robot further symbolises is then humanity giving itself up to our creations, allowing the commentary constructed through the first act of this narrative to be that people stop being humans when we separate ourselves from all that motivates WALL-E - which, in itself, is a pretty staggering assertion. But, a significant aspect of WALL-E's persona that we haven't yet touched on is love and companionship...

This is another essential aspect of his being; a sense of purpose rooted in other beings. So, in essence, through the second and third act of this narrative WALL-E develops himself and in turn teaches humanity what was wired into himself and what it was that he has nurtured; he teaches them the purpose of organising trash and making something out of it as well as the value and meaning people can find in responsibility. However, having touched upon all of these details, we reach an impasse.

I think it was a mistake having EVE taken back up to the Axiom and WALL-E follow her. Whilst I can appreciate aspects of the world building and a few of the characters that we find there, there is very little added to the profundity of the first act by the rest of the narrative - all we get is a lot of flabby plot. What's more, there are many plot holes surrounding these sequences. So, not only does the whole functioning of the ship make little sense, but a question I'd like to know the answer to would certainly be, where is this:

As WALL-E travels with the EVE transporter, he passes the moon, the sun, Saturn and then leaves the solar system--possibly the galaxy...

... before arriving at what could be a dust cloud, but what may also be a nebula. As we said before, this narrative doesn't portray time as having much substance (which makes quite a bit of sense as WALL-E is essentially immortal). However, the nearest known nebula to Earth is thought to be the Orion Nebula, which is around 20 lightyears away. In case, you don't know, 20 light years means 20 years travelling at the speed of light - a speed which is thought to take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate to and so is impossible to reach. Even if WALL-E was travelling at the speed of light here...

... which he clearly isn't - not nearly - it would take him 20 years to reach the Axiom. However, even if we ignore the implication that WALL-E left the galaxy (which is 100,000 lightyears wide), even if it took him 100s of years to reach the star cruiser, or even the Axiom was only on the edge of the solar system (and so only a few years of travel away), it is somewhat plausible that he'd survive the journey. It's questionable how he'd recharge, but let's ignore than. However, having given this movie all of those passes, it still makes no sense that they'd send probes like EVE back and fourth looking for life. Moreover, leaving the probes to search Earth for a only few days or weeks is pretty absurd. How many are sent? How much land are they supposed to search? What about other countries? Are the humans that dumb?

These are all pretty pressing questions that could have been solved by the EVE probes being situated on Earth, streaming information to the Axiom. The Axiom would be decades behind the EVE probes as the signals would be delayed because of the distance, but that doesn't matter too much. If there were EVE robots scouring Earth perpetually, instead of being sent back and fourth across space, one would eventually run into WALL-E. This should have been the first major beat of this narrative and would have been the set-up for a story that stayed on Earth - which is, considering the opening, what we want.

If the majority of this narrative stayed on Earth, all of WALL-E's positive attributes could have been tested and developed with a romance flourishing between himself and EVE - all whilst they they waited for a signal to be sent to the Axiom after EVE is shown the plant. Furthermore, conflict could have been introduced on the Axiom when the information (years later) reached the ship. Much like we see by the third act, there could have been a fight between the automation that the humans allowed to consume their lives and their will to do what is difficult, but, optimistically, worthwhile and a greater good. But, before I start re-writing the entire script, all I say is that there are many more opportunities that could have resulted in WALL-E being a masterpiece if it stayed on Earth for the majority of its narrative. However, all we can do is watch the opening sequences and dream of what they could be.

With that said, WALL-E isn't so much a disappointment, just a film with so much potential. I like it despite many missed opportunities and downfalls and it does do incredibly well in constructing a palatable commentary on pollution and the environment (which is seemingly difficult to do). Because of the brilliant characters of WALL-E and the tremendous world building I would then give in and say that this is a great movie. But, those are just my thoughts. What do you think of WALL-E and all we've covered today?

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