This article was originally published in the Fall ’08 issue of Revisions, Church and State.
As the film opens, guiding the viewer through a medley of stars and galaxies, we hear a haunting rendition of “Put on your Sunday Clothes” from Hello, Dolly!. This appears to be a recovered memory fragment of an exuberant, foolish race of beings. And, not surprisingly, the words from this tune lend themselves to an unbridled, care-free spirit that seems innocent enough but hardly shrewd:
There’s lots of world out there,
Get out the brilliantine and dime cigars,
We’re gonna find adventure in the evening air,
Girls in white in a perfumed night,
Where the lights are bright as the stars!
Ultimately, the camera leads us into our own solar system, but something doesn’t feel right. Earth comes into view, but it’s no longer the bright blue-green orb that we’re used to seeing. There is a rusty, gray haze surrounding our planet, which turns out to be countless chunks of metal and waste particles. Yes, something is wrong for sure. The camera descends through the smoggy air, and we come upon cites that once were bustling centers of life, commerce, and, tragically, unchecked consumption.
All seems forgotten in this lifeless wasteland. But wait. The recovery of mankind’s identity and memory seems to be in the “hands” of a certain Waste Allocation Load Lifter (Earth class), WALL-E. Ironically, as we follow WALL-E through his daily routine—making tidy cubes of waste and assembling them in massive tower-like structures—we learn of his curiosity and longing to recover a lost way of life—or, maybe even life itself. WALL-E somehow retains awareness that there is something more profound about humankind than the collection of material stuff. He deeply desires love and connection with others. Were these things that human beings also once cared about?
As the film continues, WALL-E’s role becomes ever more significant. With the help of fellow robot Eve, WALL-E attempts to bring life itself—symbolized by a plant sprout—back to humanity. Man’s condition, as depicted in the film, is certainly dire enough to warrant WALL-E’s redemptive act; residing in the over-accommodating spaceship Axiom for almost a millennium, people have become fat with food and diversion but are scarily devoid of “true life.” Just to name some stark examples of this, there is no more face-to-face communication, and food is pathetically consumed through straws. Yet, no one seems to mind. Each person has regressed to an infantile state of being: “de-evolution” you might say. But the spark of true life that exists between WALL-E and Eve inevitably spills over into some of the people aboard the Axiom, including Axiom’s ignorant but passionate captain.
With Earth now hospitable towards life, everyone aboard the Axiom can return home. But this is complicated by the robots on the ship who were ordered by the president of Buy N’ Large (the WalMart-esque company largely responsible for Earth’s over-consumption) to never return to Earth. This doesn’t stop the captain, WALL-E, Eve, and the other “rogue robots” from thwarting this plan and sending the Axiom earth-bound.
So, we start over, made possible by WALL-E’s near fatal sacrifice for the sake of a hopeless race of people. WALL-E also nearly loses his memory, in the process of giving memory and identity back to human beings. But EVE revives him and the two happily flourish on a newly-inhabited Earth.
The ending is a happy one for us, too. We re-learn agriculture, city-building, and culture-making. WALL-E has made a way for us. He is an unexpected eco-messiah in the fullest sense. How humble he was, but so full of life and love that he wanted to give it all back to a people in desperate need of it. I can’t help but think that WALL-E, like the One who is Life Himself (cf. John 14:6), would say of his purpose: “I came, that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”