Only rather recently did I see this movie and I was surprised by the quality of it’s story. I thought Wall-E was geared for younger minds, so I didn’t get around to seeing it until word of mouth reached me. The plot takes a few leaps into a near-fantasy realm but it still retains a fascinating plausibility. Talking about the full scale of this movie would be difficult, so I’m just going to comment on a few scenes that I think are worth reflecting on.
** Spoiler Alert **
Sorry folks, there’s no way around this. Stop reading if you haven’t seen this movie. WALL-E is a masterpiece and I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment.
In the beginning scenes, a large spacecraft lands and deposits a robotic probe. The ship seems to waste a staggering amount of fuel, just to drop one robot on the surface. The ship has a module sprout from a compartment to place the probe and has a robotic arm that seems to serve no other purpose than to press buttons on the case of the probe. It’s established that a faster-than-light drive exists, but scenes of this ship travelling in space suggest this ship is a sleeper-vessel. This means the trip could take far longer than is suggested, the passage of which would mean little for the robots. I think the way this operation is so compartmentalized, wasteful and slow-moving is the filmmaker’s way of commenting on the way modern corporations operate.
On board the Axiom is a population of humans who have been deeply conditioned by a long period of being in space. The Axiom is a project by the Buy & Large corporation, mostly managed by robotic staff which handles the population’s needs. It’s evidenced that everything the humans interact with are produced from B&L and that their education is controlled. We see that subjects as basic as farming are unknown, and that the ship’s Captain learned about it by fluke chance. The scale of control strongly suggests that the population is being conditioned by a social engineering program. It’s also interesting to consider that the Axiom is just one of many ships, with varying degrees of socially engineered populations.
When on board the Axiom, WALL-E meets two minor characters, John and Mary. Wall-E’s odd behaviour breaks them out of their regular routines. They seems pleasantly curious about the robot, I find this isn’t much different from people’s reaction when admiring wildlife. Mary is later seen stargazing while others file past. She sees the two robots embraced in dance and recognizes WALL-E, she excitedly shows the first person to pass by, which happened to be John. They watch the robots move through the sea of stars and a moment of intimacy is shared between them. It suggests to me that despite being in the grip of social engineering, they are still capable of sharing compassion for each other and their seemingly lifeless robotic servants, as though there are parts of ourselves that can’t ever be truly controlled. They both seemed more aware of their surroundings after encountering WALL-E, I doubt Mary would have been stargazing or that John would have been as invested had WALL-E not bumped into them.
Wall-E seems to be a pretty old robot, about 700 years by my estimate. So I found it interesting that two industrial-sized Wall-E work in the bowels of the ship, managing waste. They realize they almost threw two friendly robots out the airlock and they help Eve repair Wall-E by halting operations and shining lights on them. I wonder how long the pair have been alone together below deck and if there is any unspoken intimacy between these two monstrous looking robots.
During that scene, Wall-E hands Eve the plant for her to complete her programmed directive. She seems disillusioned by her earlier attempts to finish the assignment, when her fellow robots worked against that goal and tried to kill Wall-E. She holds the plant and stares at it silently, this reflects an earlier scene with Wall-E doing the same with a compacted cube of waste he created. The robots seem to be weighing the value of their contributions and perhaps, themselves.
My thoughts are that Wall-E was simply following his desires and along the way he influenced the behaviour of other robots. The message I get here is that we shouldn’t underestimate the influential effect we have on each other, the other side of that coin being the threat of allowing corporate influence with veiled motivations to creep into our lives.