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WALL-E: A Touching Story of Love, Society, and Hope

WALL-E, an inconsequential sanitation robot left to clean the mess left after centuries of apocalyptic Buy n Large’ consumerism, gradually over seven hundred years develops what could be considered his own individual character of endearing quirks and love sick idioms. His directive, an endless career of compacting and relocation of trash throughout an abandoned city, is suddenly interrupted by a chance meeting with a sleek, ultra-advanced young probe named EVE. The new friends, after an awkwardly innocent courtship, are flung into an adventure that would see the remnants of humanity upon the spaceship Axiom returning to earth and WALL-E, ever the hopeless romantic, showing EVE just how much he cares.

WALL-E (2008), a Pixar Animation Studios production distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, written and directed by Andrew Stanton, is a beguiling collection of beautifully articulated computer imagery and almost shockingly deep philosophical messages. WALL-E, a seemingly primitive platform for artificial intelligence, has somehow developed over time not only consciousness, but a deep and loving human-like personality capable of overriding his own innate directive for the sake of others. EVE too, already a free spirited luminary, gradually learns from WALL-E’s enthusiasm and self sacrifice just how far their potential as sentient beings can take them.

Even though all the robotic characters of “WALL-E” were servile automatons, each displayed their own unique personalities and growths in character throughout the movie. WALL-E unwittingly incites a revolution among the robot crew of the Axiom simply by waving to them. Robots, unsure of this new stimulus, respond excitedly to this deviation from their pre-determined directives and many of them come to his aid throughout the plot. A particularly anal-retentive little custodial robot, M-O, pursues WALL-E from the moment he boards the Axiom to enthusiastically clean the trail of contaminant he leaves, but, after realizing their common goal, becomes a loyal ally to the unlikely champion of humanity.

The Axiom, a neo-Marxist’s nightmare, was an executive starship that had fled the pollution and waste of Earth for a new life among the stars, in the hopes of someday returning when the planet could again sustain life. It is on the Axiom that WALL-E and EVE play out their affair and reach the people aboard so that they can all return to Earth. The Axiom, however, could also be argued as the creative manifestation of manufactured consumerism incarnate. The human race had already fled their home planet because of their waste and thoughtless neglect of the natural world around them, and now, on the Axiom, they had fulfilled their destiny in their hopeless evolution as consumers: floating pseudo-humans so distracted by electronic luxury and instant gratification of manufactured needs that they had completely lost all grasp of reality as well as the ability to even walk. Only after the unconventional “monkey wrench,” that WALL-E proved to be, was thrown into the proverbial gears of this system of hyper reality, did the crew of the Axiom actually personally interact with each other and literally take their first steps as human beings again.

Neo-Marxist and anti-bourgeoisie symbolism abound throughout the movie; so much so that it’s difficult to tell just how much was actually intentional or only artistic coincidence. Despite the parallels of the movie to Neo-Marxist philosophy, the creative message intended by Stanton could very well have been his own take on the trends of modern society. Needless to say, French philosopher, Jean Boudrillard (1929-2007), an avid critic of Western consumerism and the simulated reality of a “post-modern” society, would have probably been WALL-E’s biggest fan. Boudrillard, fluent in post-structuralist theory, would have interpreted WALL-E in his own philosophical way, and very much appreciated the little robot’s plight. At the risk of sounding a bit too “left,” WALL-E as a character could be seen as a symbol of the rogue social libertarian fighting to free the minds of people trapped in the false system of manufactured needs and pointless distractions. Much like the model of neo-Marxist theory today, WALL-E faces a system on the Axiom that will oppose him violently to preserve the status quo. Only by shaking the system and showing the crew of the Axiom the world free of display screens and hover beds, is WALL-E able to win their support and overthrow the Axiom’s autopilot, AUTO. This film would, quite literally, be an artistic dystopia that would have philosophers wiping away heart felt tears as they followed WALL-E through to the conclusion of the movie.

The main premise of “WALL-E,” despite the saturation of philosophic symbolism, is the relationship between WALL-E and the focus of his energetic fondness, EVE. By overriding his initial prerogative and essentially choosing his own destiny, changing from a robot to a self actualizing individual, WALL-E pursues EVE and affectionately makes her prerogative his own. When EVE was sent to Earth, she was meant to find plant life that would be the sign to return. But, when she found a seedling, suddenly she became a victim of the greater scheme of the Axiom autopilot, AUTO. WALL-E, going well beyond anything that could be expect of a sanitation robot, perseveres in the face of this incredible challenge, but only through sacrificing himself was he able to save the lives of the people aboard the Axiom. Eve’s character progresses slowly; following WALL-E’s tender example and eventually, in the end, realizing and embracing the concept of love. It’s a cute concept, robot love; expressed by holding hands and little electric shock kisses. Thankfully, she manages to restore WALL-E back on Earth, and he can finally realize what he’d been dreaming for after all those old “Hello Dolly” movies.

It would also be hoped the crew of the Axiom would realize their place on Earth as well: a more responsible and co-relational relationship. In many ways, it isn’t the Axiom crew that was meant to learn the errs of their ways, but the people who had sat in their local theatres, bought their popcorn and soda in disposable packaging, and watched the movie. “WALL-E” was science fantasy, but a fantasy that has a very real relationship with modern society. Considering the rate that we produce pollution and are affecting the very climate of our own planet, in a few hundred years, skyscraper high piles of garbage under a smoggy brown sky won’t be as fantastic as we think. It’s amazing to think something as abstract as culture and society will determine the frequency that we recycle and choose to cycle instead of drive. It makes one stop and wonder what screens we have over our own eyes.