Wall-e as Sisyphus

The thing about ‘Wall-e’ is – it’s not for kids. It resonates, and resonance requires an adult consciousness.

There is futility (Wall-e is earth’s last robotic trash compactor whose job is to collect, compact, and stack the mountains of trash left behind after the environmental end of the world); loneliness (his only friend is a cockroach who is as impervious to his environment as is Wall-e); nostalgia (his only entertainment is an old VCR playing ‘Put on Your Sunday Clothes’ from ‘Hello, Dolly’); tenacity (Wall-e hitches a ride to the Axiom, one of earth’s Titanic-like permanent spaceships where, true to its name, the rotund remnants of the human population are suffering from disuse atrophy); rebellion (Wall-e and his robotic companion, Eve, incite the captain and subsequently the ship’s passengers to get off their butts and on their feet again); and hope (a la ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ the captain is rejuvenated by a single live plant from earth, rejects his Hal-like robotic eye, and steers his passengers home).

As with all of Pixar’s anthropomorphic characters, Wall-e has a love interest, a space probe on a mission with the hugely resonant name of Eve, who sustains the baby plant as she journeys back to the Axiom. They express affection, in true Pixar fashion, by a simple touch of their robotic hands. A couple on board the spaceship follows suit with an electric hand touch – resonant of the intimacy that has been largely forgotten by those alienated from their homeland, their bodies, and their feelings.

I knew I wanted to see ‘Wall-e’ when I heard director and co-writer Andrew Stanton’s interview on PBS recently. What I remember most about the interview is his comment on attending CalArts and joining Pixar to find “that we all thought our bike was cold in the rain, that our fish was lonely in a fishbowl, that a leaf would be afraid of heights when it fell.”

Stanton also says in the interview, “There’s almost nothing you can’t convey without dialogue.” This is a minimalist lesson he and the Pixar team learned well from the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd, and it is perhaps the most resonant quality of all in this old world/new world parable of sin and redemption.

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