Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2008 8:38 pm 
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Little robot makes good

Earth is overrun with trash. Thus a little rusty robot has his lovely task: packing rubbish from humans, who've departed to space, into skyscraper cubes. WALL-E is a "he." We just know. WALL stands for "Waste Allocation" something-or-other (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class), but of course it reads as "Wally." Wally looks a little like ET. Has some of the sprightliness of R2D2. Wally's in the survivor situation of Will Smith in I Am Legend, but has no vicious enemies, only a cockroach pal that follows him around. But Wally is lonely. Wally is a lonely guy.

Animations anthropomorphize animals (as did ancient fables and the seventeenth-century poet La Fontaine), then moved on to broomsticks and other objects, and machines. Do machines have souls? Do androids dream of electric sheep? Will artificial intelligence rule? Will we have to rip out Hal's brain? These are perennial sci-fi dilemmas.

WALL-E is a robot love story. It's also a chilling if hopeful picture of humans exiled from a ruined planet and turned over many generations into consumer blobs wallowing in a space mall called "Axiom." This movie oscillates neatly between austere minimalism and cornball sweetness, with many Star Wars battles smashed together in between. It satisfies children and adults, but only by not quite fully satisfying either. That is still an accomplishment, the classic Shakespearean one of appealing to all levels of the audience.

Two ways WALL-E is wondrous are in the dusty, weathered look of its Pixar earth landscapes which Wally himself partakes of; and the endless mechanical business, the tricks and gestures of creatures and objects in constant, precise, often witty motion. But the loud sweeping music spoils the initial loneliness. How lonely can you be with a full orchestra at your back? And there is a limit to how much you can care about a machine. Or should be. Still, this movie for all its emphasis on tricks and images scores some surprisingly cool and resonant ideas along the way.

WALL-E is a triumph of the work ethic, the little guy who matters. He's also symbolic of the utilitarian, no nonsense life. When all else fails, when there's nothing but junk, he's there, sorting it. He throws away a diamond ring, but keeps the box: it looks useful. The movie also celebrates the baraka, the blessedness, of much-used humble objects that through human contact grow soulful and real. In his junk lair, where he sleeps (dreaming of electric sheep?), he plays a little piece of an old musical on a videotape, people dancing and happy, a couple singing of love. This is the kernel of humanity that's saved.

But WALL-E's a lonely guy, and when EVA comes, he's smitten. EVA is sent from "Axiom" to see if photosynthesis has returned. She--we know it's a she--is everything WALL-E isn't. He's rusty and clunky and articulated. She's round and smooth and white and her parts float in the air. He is indestructible, or nearly so, but she is higher tech, and emits sudden, alarming explosions, powerful and alien--yet somehow feminine. These are lessons in sexual differentiation for kiddies.

For adults are the bloated helpless future humans we see when EVA is returned to space and WALL-E sneaks aboard and follows her. The finale is simple and schematic--it's a letdown, despite the fun, comic reference to 2001, and the way Aliens is evoked by using Sigourney Weaver's voice for the malevolent controlling computer of "Axiom." Are we the prisoners of our own device? Even when it disappoints, WALL-E is thought-provoking. The little robots are real charmers, and there have been many ingenious delights along the way.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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