Directed by Andrew Stanton
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Yes – it’s funny that a film where one of the main messages is that an over reliance on technology will make us fat, bloated and weak seeing how – well – it’s a film where everything you see is computer-generated and the hero is… a tiny little computer.And yes – it’s funny that a film where another one of the main messages is the danger of multi-national conglomerates growing so large and powerful that they take over the planet before laying it to waste seeing how – well – it’s produced by (checks notes)… the Disney Corporation.
But that’s what life is all about right? And the best thing to do is to embrace the contradictions: because that’s what makes things beautiful.
Hands up if you were like me and felt disappointed when you first saw WALL-E and it turned out that the entire thing wasn’t just going to be this tiny little Short Circuit rip-off just going around doing random stuff? I swear to god – if Pixar ever released a director’s cut which was nothing but watching binoculars-head idly potting around the ruins of ancient Earth picking up trash then I’d be the guy first in line with all my cash in hand screaming: “Shut up and take my money!”
(Bonus points if they could somehow wangle Werner Herzog to do a voice-over that you could choose to play or not. So sometimes I could just watch it with nothing but the sound of the wind echoing through the empty skyscrapers and other times I could watch it with that sonorous voice dripping into my ears like caramel: “Watching the stupid dumb machine trundle along on it’s minuscule tank tracks opened up the realisation for me that in a sense are we not all Waste Allocation Load Lifters? (Earth-Class). Our memories as our trash and our life-long task nothing more but squeezing them into easy-to-manage cubes and packing them alongside on another in order to build the ersatz pyramids or our own concepts of ourselves.”).
Or something. I don’t know.
Things about this movie I like:
The camera work. This is the point where Pixar had reached such a pinnacle with their crazy genius that the decided to animate imperfections into the film so it looks like it’s being filmed with a real camera (which obviously makes it feel more “real”). The one bit burnt into my mind is when WALL-E is messing around with the shopping trollies and loses control and the camera follows him across the screen and then loses focus for just a second and actually thinking about it… that level of attention to detail is fucking crazy and I love it.
The sound stuff. There’s so much of it – but best exemplified by the way WALL-E says “WALL-E” (and yes now it’s in your head and yes you’re welcome).
The sharpness of the satire. That wow – once you stop to think about it is probably more to the point than anything else out there (and yes I’m looking at you Sorry To Bother You).
Fred Willard!!! I LOVE THAT GUY!! 😀
Probably the best Pixar film of all time. Although that’s obviously a pretty crowded market. (My other most favourite favourite is Up but of course your tastes may differ).
What do you think?
The Amazing Frankie
There’s a point, only a few minutes in, where WALL-E is alone on earth, with just a cockroach and mountains of garbage, cannibalizing dead robots for parts, and I’m like, “Well… this is… dark.”
Then WALL-E gets to the space ship and, unbelievably, it just gets worse as the post-apocalyptic, garbage-filled dystopia of earth is replaced with a consumerist human-cattle screen-filled techno-dystopia.
“ALL THE DYSTOPIAS!” I said aloud.
Seriously, the only way this movie could have gotten more dystopian is if it revealed the breakfast drinks were made from people.
Safe to say, this level of grim was not what I expected from Disney-Pixar. Though maybe I should have; Pixar has a dark side.
But it did make me question our visions of dystopia and the narratives we build around it.
We have humans turning their origin planet into a giant, uninhabitable waste dump unable to support life through relentless and rapacious consumption, causing the apparent extinction of every other species on earth (besides the cockroaches), and then taking to space where they live pampered existences, supported and catered to by technology, continuing their consumption and leaving a trail of waste in their wake.
There are some practical questions about where they’re getting the volume of raw materials to support this lifestyle while traveling through space, so that as a society they can afford to constantly shovel piles of waste out an airlock. But it’s a cartoon, so I set that aside and assumed in the WALL-E universe the robots have got this sorted and humans don’t need to worry their sweet little primate heads about how it can be more efficient to acquire, extract and process raw materials than recycle and reuse, even given that all the labour is done by automation.
The bigger question, then, is what’s actually wrong with what they’re doing?
Okay, yes, besides the part where they killed off (nearly) every other living thing on earth.
Historical planetary-scale genocide aside, their lifestyle doesn’t appear to be hurting anyone now. The humans on the ship look well cared for. There doesn’t seem to be any poverty or disease or inequality (except for the position of the captain). There doesn’t seem to be any violence or hunger. The children are being educated. And when John and Mary want to turn off their screens, look out the window or swim in the pool, they do. Nothing stops them.
Humanity has a spaceship that’s completely self-sustaining, can apparently travel from the far reaches of the solar system in a matter of seconds, and shows no signs of fatigue or mechanical failure after centuries in space.
But, instead of saying okay, earth is pretty messed up, and that’s on us, but we’ve learned and we won’t do it again, and finding another planet where there’s no life to harm, one that they can hollow out and consume like termites in a dead tree, if that’s what they want, humanity hangs around in space (also a valid choice) apparently doing absolutely nothing, until they discover, after 700 years without humans, earth is finally starting to recover on its own. Then the humans decide they should immediately return to earth and start mucking around with it again.
A return to the glorious past! When pizza grew on trees!
So the happy ending in WALL-E is humans returning to a still contaminated and unhealthy planet, which has only barely begun to be able to support life again after what humans did to it in the first place, where they’re going to be exposed to all kinds of toxins and carcinogens and foreign microorganisms, in bodies totally unprepared for the physical environment, reverting to primitive agriculture, to try and recreate an idealized past that never existed, and probably dying in droves from illness, famine, injury, etc. in the attempt.
Because you know what would be really terrible in comparison? If humans, having overcome those things in the first place, could choose to spend their lives riding around on rocket sleds drinking milkshakes with their heads in the internet, not hurting anyone, while robots and computers handle all the menial tasks and provide for all their basic needs.
That would be just awful.
Maybe the most truly grim thing in WALL-E isn’t the collage of dystopia portrayed in the movie, but an underlying attitude that says if humans aren’t forced to struggle to meet their basic survival needs, they’ll just waste their lives in sloth, mindless consumption, and the pointless pursuit of pleasure.
Conclusion: there are some deep veins of technophobia and cultural pessimism in this film.
Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy WALL-E!
Because I did. I enjoyed it a lot. Pixar always puts together an aesthetically pleasing experience and I agree with Joel about the attention to detail.
My favourite parts were the nods to sci-fi and robot flicks past. Like Joel mentioned, WALL-E’s design evokes Johnny-5, and Auto’s design is a clear homage HAL 9000.
Of course this robot is the villain.
The 2001 references don’t stop there; WALL-E also uses music from 2001. “Space: the final fun-tier” cracked me up. Earth, with the pollution and extinction of life and everyone bailing for space seems very Blade Runner. And there’s definitely some Silent Running influence in the plot to destroy the plant on the ship.
I also have to appreciate the sheer weirdness of framing a robot rom-com in this multiplicity of dystopias.
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
I’m sorry – I’m not usually one to gush – but I really loved Frankie’s post. “ALL THE DYSTOPIAS!” / The bigger question, then, is what’s actually wrong with what they’re doing ? / And – yes – as soon as the movie ends they’re all going to die…
I think this is my favourite type of movie review: one which ends up making me see and think and feel about the movie in a whole new way.
The only bit I would would quibble with would be this:
Seriously, the only way this movie could have gotten more dystopian is if it revealed the breakfast drinks were made from people.
Well. I mean: like Frankie says it’s a closed system and I don’t remember seeing any old people on the ship (which is obviously a little strange when you’re talking about a pleasure cruise – because normally there’s always like old people everywhere) plus – well – there is a bit where the Captain B. McCrea does a systems check and we get this little pleasant exchange:
CAPTAIN: Mechanical systems?
CAPTAIN:Reactor core temperature?
CAPTAIN:Regenerative food buffet?
Wait a second – Regenerative food buffet?
(Also – something something about the passenger count…)
Obviously it’s not an open and shut case – but it’s there if you want it.
Maybe this is why this is the Pixar movie? (Although actually when you sit down and think about it and tally up the scores: all the Pixar movies are the best Pixar movies – apart from A Bug’s Life obviously which was only just at the level of “meh” and nowhere near as good as Antz. Yeah – I said it).
Although I should admit that the bit of Frankie’s post that really keeps rolling around my head isn’t even of the words – but this picture:
Because – oh my god you guys – that right there is basically the secret subheading of the entire movie and I wish they’d had the guts to actually just release the whole thing as “WALL-E: Welcome to Economy.”
In fact (just to underline this) – let me just ask my good friend Bill Clinton what he thinks Wall-e is really about…
“Hey Bill – what do you think Wall-e is really about?”
“It’s about the economy stupid.”
I mean – obviously it’s not about boring facts and figures and numbers and sums and stuff (yawn). No thank you. But holy shit in terms of representations of the different classes – you couldn’t really do better than this. In fact I’m almost tempted to write a Pixar’s Introduction to Marxism and under “bourgeoisie” have a picture of these guys:
And for “proletariat” have a picture of these guys:
(Yes smarty pants we already know that The term “robot” comes from a Czech word, robota, meaning “forced labour.” Well done. Five points).
Quote: “The proletariat is the class of wage-earners in an economic society whose only possession of significant material value is their labour-power.” and am I only one that noticed how obsessed this whole movie is with people (by which I mean robots) doing their jobs? (or as Eve would put it: “Directive.”).
I mean – I rewatched The Time Machine (1960) last year and that kinda posits the idea that the human race will branch off into two with the Aryan ruling class living above ground – frolicking around and eating fruit. While the working class would of course end up reverting into bug-eyed green monster form and look something like this:
But that’s god-damn utopian compared to WALL-E’s “ALL THE DYSTOPIAS!” approach – where the robots have been so defined by their manual labour that it’s shaped their physical beings and their goddamn language.
You want to know why this guy is called “Mo”? It stands for “Microbe Obliterator” and OMG he doesn’t even have hands. They’ve literally been replaced with a scrubbing brush.
Aaaargh, OMG. This dude doesn’t have an feet. It’s like Annie Wilkes got to him or something.
And guy is a fucking umbrella. What. The. Fuck. Not even Marx saw that one coming.
Basically the whole film is a demonstration of the ways that work can affect your way of life and entire being. Which obviously I think is kinda beautiful and stuff and why it’s the best Pixar movie by a very long way (no wait – scratch that – all the Pixar movies are the best Pixar movies).
More to come.
So – is this strange? – but I’m kinda convinced that WALL-E is a hymn to defectiveness.
Because there’s a group of robots that don’t quite fit into the same category as all the others. If Eve and Mo and Auto and all the rest of the others define themselves solely by their jobs and their directives – there’s also a group of robots that very much do not. Who basically refuse to be “forced labour” and instead – well – opt for something else. (Is it too much to say that maybe they’re the artists?).
Of course I’m referring to these guys:
The robots from the Repair Ward.
Or to give them seemingly official corporate title: The Reject-Bots (oh wow lol: what would Foucault say?).
In a world where everyone is devoted to the task of performing their directives – The Reject-Bots (for whatever reason) seem to be a little more… free? And dare I say it – kinda taken to the idea of free expression in a way that’s almost artistic? You all remember the bit where WALL-E gets a makeover right?
“You look gorgeous.”
And there’s that other robot whose form of anarchy is painting yellow lines everywhere it goes like a particularly primitive Banksy…
I mean: (it’s not just me right?) but it seems pretty clear that these guys are the real heroes of the film. Presenting a way that brings joy and excitement to everyone else they come into contact with: with the lesson being that the only way to find somekind of proper meaning into your life is to break out of the constraints that you’ve been shacked within.
In fact the best and clearest example of this is the typing robot dude.
You remember right? This guy:
With his binary keyboard (ho ho ho):
I mean – if there’s a better example of soulless corporate druggery then I’ve yet to see it. I mean: say what you like about someone that has to spend their whole working day sitting in front of a screen and typing on a keyboard – at least they’re got an alphabet you know?
And then of course WALL-E comes along and in a simple act of kindness he shows Typey Mctypey how to wave. Which I don’t know – fills with me a strange kinda happy/sadness feeling.
Is it strange that when I look at this:
It makes me think of this?
I mean: if you can find something that takes you outside the narrow parameters of your programming – something that doesn’t fit into the box of your work and isn’t something that’s just about fulfilling your directive – even if it as simple and small as learning how to use your clenched-fist robot hands with keyboard-pointers-built-in to – wave. Then wow ok: I think that’s a beautiful and rebellious act. And obviously even tho the conversation of “what is art?” often tends to go to some pretty boring and ridiculous places – I quite like the idea that you could define that tiny wave of the typing bot to be the first small step of what art is all about. Something kinda meaningless and unproductive and outside the tasks that you’re expected to complete by whatever the powers that be. But that’s ultimately as powerful and important and meaningful as that bit in the movie when that monkey starts hitting things with that bone.
Barbican Comic Forum
It worries me how fascinated I am with the apocalypse to the extent it’s now basically my job to worry about how bad things could get (spoilers: really bad). But I think many people, maybe even most people want the apocalypse, whether it’s religious fundamentalists, Neo-Liberal idiots who think the goal of society is to hoard as much wealth as possible, the UKIP who want to build “fortress Britain, and well basically everyone. I sort of assume that it’s a side effect of systematically stamping on progressive politics for 50 years which has led many to a sort of ideology of despair.
One symptom of this is that Wall-E (and Bladerunner, and 12 Monkeys, and Fallout) are set in the future but aren’t nostalgic for the time the movies are released, and why would they be? Everyone hates “now”. Instead they all use references to post-war America as their time of lost innocence. It works because there is a weird melancholy from the music of that time (“One more kiss, dear” on the Bladerunner soundtrack is a good example of a 40s-esque dance hall number which is bleak as hell). Wall-E opens with this sort of music and keeps harking back to that time – a “golden” era where a world war had just ended, combined with The Holocaust; and a very present nuclear arms race – so golden! Wall-E himself sees contemporary products as treasure but he only romanticises the 40s, 50s and 60s, much as we do.
I wonder if the “golden era” view is not just nostalgia but a symptom of propaganda. Things were so bleak during and after the war that maybe that sort of cinema was discouraged (and maybe there was no demand for it) and so escapist movies where everyone is singing or dancing all the time emerged as the template. Everyone was a war hero and/or a plucky upstart dragging themselves up from the gutter and building a brighter future for themselves. By the 90s Western Governments had given up on this and just promoted fear while selling our revolution back to us. It should have been a time of hope, the Cold War was over and climate change just seemed inconvenient, another thing we’d figure out in the end, but instead it seems like people in the developed world have just had enough.
My history teacher used to go on about “rugged individualism” as America’s antidote to communism. Exemplified by cowboys but cannibalised by films like Rocky IV and Predator, the heroes rejected technology, big government, and even teamwork to ultimately defeat evil with just their bare hands and their wits. The humans in Wall-E are seen as bad because they are the antithesis of this view of what it means to be a hero. The film’s critique of humanity is like the logical extension of Fight Club, everyone is now Jack with their needs fulfilled by Ikea and Starbucks, losing touch with the physical world and getting further away from Tyler Durden’s utopia you will wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life, and you’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower… climb up through the dripping forest canopy and see tiny figures pounding corn and laying strips of venison to dry in the empty car pool lane of an abandoned superhighway stretching eight-lanes-wide and August-hot for a thousand miles.”
And this is why the question posed by Frankie is for me The Question- the choice the movie presents to us is that civilisation has destroyed our planet so we must either leave the planet or abandon civilisation. To me that’s the old cliche of it being easier to imagine the end of the world than imagine the end of capitalism. Indeed the Pixar shared universe theory suggests this might be true and that even after the brief renaissance of Wall-E only the bugs* and monsters surviving the apocalypse. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixar_universe_theory
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Ok. So – the robots are the proletariat and the reject-bots are the artists: then where does that leave the main act – WALL-E himself?
(Or should I say “itself”? Or “themselves?” I saw a thing somewhere before I rewatched it that said that WALL-E and EVE are never actually explicitly gendered in the film – which you know – is all to the good. And I don’t know if this is my patriarchy-riddled brain or just gender norms colouring everything I see – but when I actually watched the movie it seemed very obvious that WALL-E (with his kinda low / kinda kazoo-like voice) was gendered “he” and EVE (with her girlish high toned voice) was gendered “her” but if anyone wants to jump in with a link to a gender-queer reading of the whole thing – then please do go right ahead….).
I think WALL-E actually takes the idea of the whole film being a hymn to defectiveness a step further – it’s not just beautiful and rebellious: it’s actually life itself.
Again – I think was inspired by Frankie’s post about how the start of the movie opens with the sight of dead WALL-Es and our trusty hero cannibalizing them…. (tank treads just count as shoes right?)
Basically the question that rises in my brain when I see this is: ok – if all the other WALL-Es are dead: then what makes our WALL-E so different?
My best guess is this: basically – the other WALL-Es were all mindless drones (like the majority of the robots that we meet on the Axiom) who were focused on nothing more than just doing their jobs until the point where they just stopped. They’re the lumpenproletariat – “the unorganized and unpolitical lower orders of society who are not interested in revolutionary advancement.” And because they lack that spark of life – they die.
Our WALL-E is different. Yes he does his job (most of those large towers of trash are his right?)
But also (and this is most of the first 15 minutes of the film) – he has fun on the job too. He plays with fire extinguishers and bats and bras. Altho he has his directive – it’s not all consuming and he even manages to find value in among the trash itself (cut to: finding a diamond ring and throwing it away and keeping the box).
I kinda wish that there was a name for this type of attitude of being able to see the value in everything (maybe there is a word for it already and I don’t know it?) but I love it and I think it’s miraculous and I think it’s a big part of what makes WALL-E such a… magical character. I mean every time I see a picture of the cute little guy or just hear his stupid robot voice there is something inside me that just melts in response. Like I just want to pick him up and hug him (I guess that must be love?).
And seeing how WALL-E is obsessed with the whole hands-holding-thing it’s interesting seeing how he manages to infect everyone he touches with the same kinda drive as himself. The basic way that the movie sets things up is that every character is stuck in their rote programming (EVE, MO, John, Mary, Captain McCrea, Typey Mctypey etc) and then WALL-E comes along and with a single touch he releases them from the restrictions of their worldview and gets them to see the bigger picture.
This is most obvious with John and Mary where their contact with WALL-E means that their tops change colour. But my favourite one is when WALL-E gives Captain McCrea the boot with the plant in and the dirt on his hand is basically what sets off the chain reaction that leads to the Axiom taking everyone back to Earth (and to their sure-to-be-inevitable deaths).
It’s almost like WALL-E is a virus or a pathogen. A little slice of chaos unexpectedly released into various systems of order. Breaking people apart from their closed circuits and sending them tumbling off into strange new orbits.
Or in other words – this:
One touch and everything breaks (in a beautiful way).
And that’s all to say why the ending is such a massively painful punch to the gut.
I mean: obviously there’s a basic irony about how silly it is that we’re horrified that a robot has become robotic I mean if you wanted to be a smart-ass you could be: well – isn’t that the point? How else did you want him to act? Only obviously that fails to take into account the entirety of the movie that came before it: I mean at the risk of underlining too much stuff I’ve already said – in WALL-E to be a robot is to want nothing more than to achieve your directive and that is a form of living death that leads only to obliteration…
Yes I know it’s a soppy and cliche as hell but that’s the magic of any good film / story – making what’s obvious profound (and well as obvious as it is to say: most of the most profound stuff out there is pretty obvious – but that’s kinda what makes it profound – right?). I don’t know if this counts as a Marxist reading or what – but what I love about WALL-E is that it shows us that there’s more to life than work. No wait – more than that: that a life that is only about robotic work is actually a form of living death (imagine a WALL-E that ended without that spark between WALL-E and EVE and instead ended with the sight of a robotic WALL-E mindlessly fulfilling his directive until he finally died = brrrrrrr. And don’t even get me started on the existential horror I felt at the base of my spine when EVE presses his play button and all that comes out is static = brrrrrr x100). And you need life outside work (and within it too) in order to be alive at all. Otherwise well yeah – you’re just a robot. Waiting to be used for parts.
And circling back to this idea that this film is a “hymn to defectiveness” I find it especially biting that WALL-E’s consciousness is itself suggested as being a result of defectiveness. When he works exactly how he’s supposed to – he’s dead. It’s only when there’s that spark / that glitch / that defect that his eyes move in the way that they’re supposed to.
And yeah – I’m pretty sure that it’s contracted into every Pixar to show their characters entranced by screens (Buzz watching the Buzz Lightyear ads, Woody watching Woody’s Roundup, Remy watching Gusteau, young Carl Fredricksen watching Charles F. Muntz etc) but the WALL-E one hits me the hardest I think even tho I know it’s double-edged. WALL-E watching Hello Dolly is the clearest example that shows that there is more to his life than just doing his job – but also (as we see with the humans glued to their screens later on the film) I kinda of trap – but then maybe that’s everything?
Yeah. It’s strange to show that someone is alive by having them watching a screen – but maybe that’s what being a movie fan is all about?
There’s more to life than being a robot. Even for robots. (Especially for robots).
One final thing to add: if you’re into science-fiction and graphic design and the overlap in-between then I very much recommend one of the best places on the internet:
TYPESET IN THE FUTURE
Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies
Especially their article on WALL-E which is full of interesting little nuggets such as this:
The presence of a Buy n Large–branded bank means Buy n Large–branded banknotes, which are unusual for being strewn across the floor of the deserted city. If you look closely at the notes, you’ll see that some of them have “106” in the corner, and are marked “ten million dollars.” Others look to be marked “996,” suggesting that Buy n Large stores continued the classic $9.99 pricing trick even after adding six zeroes to the end of everything. (Indeed, it says much about the Buy n Large approach to consumerism that it prints notes with the 99s already included, to avoid customers having to receive any change.)
It’s all about the little things.
Best children’s film about the economy ever. LOL