Post-apocalyptic movie: Wall-E

How the world ends: An eco-catastrophe caused by our burying the planet (and the space around it) in its own trash.

I was really startled when I first saw the trailers for Wall-E, because Disney/Pixar was pretty much the last place I expected to find a post-apocalyptic movie, and it seems the fact that they’ve produced one must have larger societal significance.

Long before the movie begins, the earth has become uninhabitable, and everyone who good has left for space while a fleet of robots left behind cleans the planet up. Only most of those robots have long since stopped working, and so we’re left with only Wall-E, the last of the last survivors, doing his best to continue cleaning up while also trying to make sense of and becoming fascinating with the objects the humans have left behind. Only of course he doesn’t stay alone: Eve, a probe sent by the humans to search for any sign of vegetation.

I went in expecting to be charmed if mildly emotionally manipulated, and also prepared to find Eve–a cleaner, more polished robot than tractor-like trashbot Wall-E–prissy and faintly irritating.

Instead I found a truly strong, and not merely spirited, female character who arguably is the real protagonist of the story. Eve is strong enough to save the world (working with Wall-E without becoming subtly subservient to him), rescue the guy she loves and carry him to safety (repeatedly), and learn the ways of a new world well enough to save his life. Eve rocked in this movie, and stood in sharp contrast to the only female character in last Pixar movie I saw.

One could debate whether robots really have gender, but the reader is clearly intended to take Wall-E and Eve as male and female. A small cynical part of me nonetheless wonders if the creators were more willing to make her strong because she was a robot. But mostly, I found Eve delightful, and her Wall-E’s romance genuinely charming, and it’s on the strength of those two things that the movie worked so well for me.

Because that romance takes front stage, the environmental messages don’t feel as heavy-handed as they might have been, and worked for me. I realized just how dystopic this world was when we past the ruins of our lunar landings, and a big “mall coming soon” sign popped up beside them; combine that with the remnants of humanity no longer knowing how to walk (okay, maybe that is heavy handed), and you have a very dark world indeed, presented in a very not-dark way, because ultimately it isn’t about the humans. Even though it is.

My post-apocalyptic reading/writing/thinking did lead me to think about just how bad the chances of those humans really surviving back on earth would be–growing enough food and finding enough water to survive is hard, after all, even if you’re not learning to walk for the first time–but I quickly decided I didn’t care. In the end, this was really more a fable than an SF film. Besides, maybe the humans all had detailed instructions and cryogenically preserved seed crops hidden somewhere on board the ship, right?

But even if they didn’t, the robots, at least, will survive, and that’s what really matters, because in the world of the movie the robots look and feel more real to us than the humans ever do anyway. 🙂

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