Thursday, July 3, 2008

Why I loved Wall –E

I have been continually surprised by people who did not like WALL-E, so for the purposes of thinking critically and analyzing what we watch, here is my quickly thrown together defense of WALL-E.

Setting the means of evaluation
Why we shouldn’t be using normative evaluation: aka thou shalt not compare WALL-E to other films, but judge it by its own merits.

Movies made by the same group or covering similar themes need not be scaled against each other. For example, Schindler’s List and Indiana Jones (I) are two outstanding films made by Steven Spielberg. Both movies feature strong male leads that go outside of the norms of their positions, at risk to themselves, to achieve altruistic ends. Both movies are about Nazi’s. Both movies are undisputedly popular and I think that most people would agree that they are “good”. Can you compare them in terms of overall excellence? Sure, but should you?

Not really.

So instead of arguing if Toy Story is “better” than Monsters Inc., is better than Finding Nemo; or comparing WALL-E to 2001 A Space Odyssey, to Terminator, or An Inconvenient Truth, we need to look at WALL-E as its own work. (Albeit a work in a specific style (specific to a group), with theme’s common to specific types of film, and with homage to certain works.)

Hopefully we can agree that comparing the overall excellence of one film versus another is not the ideal way to analyze a film.

Major Themes
I felt that the themes and their execution in WALL-E were pretty sophisticated. I think that working around a basic set of themes and crafting them throughout is the foundation for a great film. Bellow are some interesting themes that were touched on in WALL-E.

Loneliness/Human contact: There is a lot of imagery of “human” contact. WALL-E’s interest in hand holding bred by his utter loneliness, his pursuit of artifacts not a collection of strange items, but rather an attempt to pursue a relationship with a civilization that no longer exists for him, his ‘friendship’ with the roach.

Likewise on the ship, human contact has all but disappeared as shown most clearly by the children being taught by robots and not their parents and the gliding along on the phone. People on the ship are moving through crowds without curiosity or interest in their fellows. They are not able to properly communicate with other people because their world has been shrunk to the smallest and most easily pursued chunks.

Verbalization/Communication: A big complaint I’ve heard was that there was no talking in the first part of the film. Of course there wasn’t because WALL-E was alone. Just as in I am Legend, Will Smith speaks only to the dog, WALL-E beeps only at the roach. The silence on the planet emphasized that WALL-E was utterly alone, performing his impossible task with no evidence that he would ever be rewarded. The scenes showing the WALL-E grave yard was one of the loneliest and most desolate scenes I’ve ever watched. I found it incredibly moving.

WALL-E’s fear of EVE upon her arrival is over-ridden by his joy at having the possibility of finding another being with whom to interact. WALL-E takes a risk in order to be with another being, and upon meeting EVE, learns how to talk, to communicate with another of his own kind.

Meanwhile on the ship, humans only talk on the phone. It is as though the humans have forgotten how to interact with each other at all. (How often do we see people at social occasions on the phone?) It is only when WALL-E arrives that they learn how to communicate face to face again (ex. John and Mary).

Paying Attention/Self Awareness: In WALL-E the characters have a very limited scope. Robots can only work within their ‘directives’ and doggedly pursue them until they become self aware through WALL-E’s intervention. Humans can only see their phones until WALL-E comes and makes them self-aware.

How self-awareness is brought about:

  1. Knowledge- WALL-E collects treasures. The captain gets just enough knowledge to care.
  2. Love- EVE becomes self-aware when WALL-E violates his directive to pursue her.

People on the ship do not critically examine what they do, they no longer have jobs or any external focus. In short, they are not paying attention. WALL-E brings them out of the reverie and into communication with other people and robots.

Accountability: Something I see in my workplace and also through tutoring is a general lack of accountability. People don’t understand consequences, on a macro or micro level. Kid doesn’t do his homework yet cannot understand why he is failing. Showing all the pieces of garbage both on earth and on the ship shows the viewer that people do not consider their day to day actions and have not learned from their errors.

Similarly, because the humans do nothing for themselves they lose the ability to make decisions in their best interests. Part of being accountable for your actions is also being accountable for your inaction. Not learning the things they need to know to survive without machines left them at the mercy of machines. Like the computer in Logan’s Run or HAL in 2001, the robots are left to make complicated decisions about human welfare that are better made by a human.

Fear of Change/Risk Taking: The captain over-rides Auto after his initial fear of going back to Earth because he recognizes the advantage of independence. WALL-E approaches EVE with the knowledge that she almost certainly blow him up in order to gain the greater enjoyment of having a relationship. EVE over-rides the word of her directive in order to support WALL-E and to follow the ultimate goal of her creators. WALL-E pursues the plant to his own death in order to support EVE’s ultimate goal. All of these characters decide to take scary risks in order to pursue independent thought or relationships.

Things that people found confusing/didn’t like in WALL-E
Here is a short list of things that I have heard people discuss about WALL-E that I find interesting.

Why Hello Dolly: Hello Dolly is an amazing piece of Americana, set in an idealized time and place in America. Hello Dolly says a lot about what we would like to think about America. It also is thematically similar to WALL-E.

Hello Dolly is really three stories in one. The story of an old curmudgeon letting some control go and finding joy in areas beyond money and control. The second story is of a fight for a young woman’s independence from her controlling family. And finally the story of 4 people who take risks in order to find love I a world beyond their normal bounds.

Hello Dolly shows the fear of change, the dangers of control, the importance of risks, and the all consuming desire to find love and family in a group of other people.

Also the music is kicky. What can I say?

Big fat stupid people: We are fat, lazy, and complacent and I think that unless we are intentional in how we live we will become more so. Hey, look down and if you can see your toes, get on a plane and fly to Kansas and start eyeballing the folks there. I’m just saying….

As you can tell in the film, the creators of WALL-E exaggerated these issues for comedic effect. You may have heard of comedy, it is funny.

What is WALL-E? Sci-fi, a kids’ movie, or leftist propaganda: Why do we have to say WALL-E is for kids? Because it is a cartoon without tentacle sex? Because it is made be Pixar and there is nothing offensive in it? I don’t think that we should think of WALL-E in terms of cartoons versus live action , but instead consider the complexity of its themes.

I also don’t see WALL-E as global warming propaganda. WALL-E doesn’t really emphasize the environmental angle; it doesn’t teach us to drive electric cars, recycle, or worry about polar bears. Instead WALL-E shows us what could happen when laziness, isolation, and lack of accountability all come together in the perfect storm.

I feel like WALL-E is very clearly a sci-fi movie; a cautionary tale about what can happen to our society. Its brethren Fahrenheit 451, 2001: a Space Odyssey, Terminator, Blade Runner, Logan’s Run, and Children of Men are all movies that tell stories about unfortunate possible futures. Futures that are not quite what we would choose for ourselves. Each movie has some themes in common, but I find it hard to believe that someone would say that that these movies are unnecessary because they cover the some of the same human fears.

Sci-fi by nature is almost always a parable- just like children’s stories. Isn’t there enough room in both genres for one little movie about how a robot revives the civilization of Earth?

Little things I really enjoyed about WALL-E:

It was freaking hugely cute.
1. WALL-E was adorable. His sounds and the amount of expression available in his body language (chassis language?), eyes (lenses?), and beeps was amazing. A-mazing.
2. The host of other robots. Also adorable. Especially the cleaner bot.
3. Cockroach= cute. If roaches looked like that in real life I would not squish them.

Robot love story? Yes, please. (Bot is lonely, bot meets girl, bot loses girl. Bot sacrifices self for greater good of humanity and the bot he loves.) *sigh*

The humans’ chubby feat? Awesome.

Mary and John discovering each other due to their ability to notice things outside of themselves. The huge empty pools with nobody swimming until Mary John have their revelation.

The animation was fantastic.

Taking big stuff to the final conclusion. Yes, a big gulp is too big. Our cars are too big. Soon our asses will be too big and we will have to fly around like Harkonnen. (hooray)

WALL-E was sci-fi for people who do not know that they like sci-fi and do not think that they like sci-fi, but do.

I really identified with WALL-E. I found myself very sympathetic to the characters and extremely emotionally drawn in.


Drew said...

I don't think I could've written a better review of the movie myself. Good job!

As for this being a kids movie, I have a little antic-dote. I saw this movie at the Alamo Draft House with my parents and Tia. They normally don't let people under 18 in, because they sell boos there. The theater was packed.

As an aside, I don't understand where this accusation of 'left wing propeganda' is coming from. This is a classic sci-fi movie, born from the same primordial meme-soup as many of the movies you've mentioned before.

I weep for humanity sometimes.

qtilla said...

Darn toot'n.