In WALL-E, we learn just what life would be like were the promise of the welfare state finally realized. Far from the schemes of Utopians, it seems downright hellish. Pixar animator and filmmaker Andrew Stanton told as much to the Christian magazine, World:
“What if everything you needed to survive—health care, food—was taken care of and you had nothing but a perpetual vacation to fill your time? What if the result of all that convenience was that all your relationships became indirect—nobody’s reaching out to each other? A lot of people have suggested that I was making a comment on obesity. But that wasn’t it, I was trying to make humanity big babies because there was no reason for them to grow up anymore.”
Wall-E then wasn’t meant to teach about environmentalism, for the trash that builds up isn’t nearly as important as the trashing of relationships. Wall-E depicts humans as bovine, blobs, plugged into television and seated upon hovercrafts, millions of miles away from the toxic earth aboard Big N Large (“BnL”)’s StarLiners. A commercial broadcasts its Faustian appeal. “Too much garbage in your face? There’s plenty of space out in space! BnL StarLiners leaving each day. We’ll clean up the mess while you’re away.”
Onboard, everything from entertainment to childhood education is provided by the mega-corporation, causing some conservatives to wrongly condemn Wall-E for demonizing business. (These conservatives failed to note that the CEO of BnL is also president of the United States, a textbook case of crony capitalism.)
Stanton knows what Tocqueville did: it’s the cultivation of proper habits and virtue that truly makes men free. When we become child-like, we lose our government, becoming wards if not of the state, then of our own instincts. Space may well be the final frontier, but the most important is the timeless journey of the soul’s enrichment through others.
What then can be done to renew relationships that have long been lost? Two machines, Wall-E and EVE suggest that it can be rebuilt, but only through irrational love that destroys even the habits – or is it programming? – we’ve built up. Their improbable love begins when Wall-E, assigned the Sisyphean task of sorting our garbage for seven hundred years, encounters EVE, who nearly tries to kill him with her blaster. Curious, he pursues her, and the audience finds that she is everything Wall-E is not. She’s sleek, clean, and on a mission far more targeted. She must find that the earth is habitable once more.
Their love blossoms until Wall-E shows EVE the plant he has found. EVE takes the plant inside her compartment – and then goes into hibernation mode awaiting her ship’s return. For all Wall-E knows, she is dead. But death doesn’t end the relationship either for Wall-E lugs her around with him. His love is real, even if she’s gone. Machines loving and having souls is a story as old as Frankenstein, but the animators of Wall-E make it wholly new.
The name EVE is, of course, homage to Eve, who cast us out of the Garden of Eden after eating of the tree of knowledge, with an important twist: EVE’s mission is to re-root humanity in its knowledge of itself and in love of others. AUTO, the machine that runs everything and that is the real villain is only because we’ve allowed our automatic or selfish desire to disconnect us from what it means to be human.
And so, conservatives should not recoil from the end or see the captain setting foot on earth and promising to teach the children how to farm, as a kind of return to feudalism, but as an embrace of the transmission of knowledge from generation to generation, which makes civilization possible.
Crossposted at Big Hollywood.