If the greatest trick that the devil ever pulled was convinving the world that he didn’t exist, the greatest trick that Pixar has ever pulled was convincing America that this guy is adorable. Last year’s Ratatouille, which managed to get the people to fall in love with a typhus-infested sewer rat, was only a warm up for the seething cauldron of weirdnesss that is WALL·E.
WALL·E is cute, of course, and he’s also a robot, so that scores him some points. But he’s also clearly insane. Let’s look at the facts. He spends his days going through people’s trash, and don’t say that it’s just his job, because no one is paying him. He does this because he wants to, or rather, because his “programming” (the voices in his head) tells him he has to. Every now and then, he’ll fixate on a valueless object – a slinky, say – and take it back to his “house” (an abandoned storage unit) where he either A) incorporates it into a giant trash sculpture, or B) carefully files it in a drawer with dozens of identical slinkies. (It’s this hoarding aspect of his behavior that really pushes his hobby past “charming outsider art” and into “crippling obsessive compulsive personality disorder.”) Need more proof? Every night – every night! – he watches the same movie, which doesn’t exactly scream “sane.” And the first time he meets a woman, he immediately starts stalking her, harassing her at work and even following her back to her house. Uh, what else? Oh yeah, his best friend is a cockroach.
But this is all small potatoes compared to one early scene in the film, where WALL·E passes the rusted-out carcass of another Waste Allocation Lifter Loader, Earth-Class. He looks at the shattered robot. He looks at his own severly damaged tank treads. He looks at the other robot’s shiny, perfectly preserved treads. In the next scene, we see WALL·E happily zooming along on his new legs, without a care in the world. What does this mean? Well, it means that WALL·E is, at best, a graverobber. And at worst?
A cannibal. The metaphor’s really not that far off. In the world of the film, robots are people too, so WALL·E has just come across a corpse. His brother’s corpse. And his response was to rip off a chunk of the corpse’s sweet metallic flesh and incorporate it into his own body. This is the number one family film of the summer?
I mentioned on one of the podcasts that what we do, here at OTI, is say things that are totally absurd (for comedic effect), but at the same time kind of true. Claiming that WALL·E is a deranged flesh-eater is perhaps a little more absurd than usual, but there’s still a kernel of truth to it. The interesting thing about this scene is that WALL·E’s hand is forced. His treads are falling apart, and they’re his only means of locomotion. If they snap while he’s outside, he’ll eventually be ripped to pieces by a dust storm; if they snap while he’s inside, he’ll slowly “starve” to death. The other robot’s treads are in mint condition, and he certainly doesn’t need them anymore… so if it is cannibalism, it’s closer to Alive than it is to Cannibal Apocalypse. WALL·E’s world is so desperate that the social contract has collapsed. His only law is the law of survival. Obviously WALL·E is supposed to be lonely at the beginning of the movie, but only the tank tread scene drives home just how horrifically, catastrophically alone he really is.
[P.S. Looking back over the post, I realize that I am betraying my own cultural biases. After all, who says that a mentally ill and/or homeless person can’t be loveable too?]
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been rattling off a speech along these lines, but with an insufferably feminist bent. It goes like this:
Everyone would have HATED Wall-E if he were a girl. Because then it wouldn’t be, “Aww, look at the cute poor robot looking for love.” It would be, “OMG this crazy stalker girlfriend is fucking SCARY.”
Yeah, Wall-E is definitely an example of the kind of guy that Hollywood and television and other moral prosthetlitizers insist that every guy should be, but also the kind of guy that no woman in her right mind would want to be around, let alone sleep with.
If I were to write that OTI post, I’d start with a childhood of listening to Richard Marx on my mom’s car radio and its effect on my notions of romance and dating in my teenage years.
Talk about a Long Dark Night of the Soul.
About the main post, I’ll bite —
Stokes, what do you think about organ transplants?
Or stem cell research?
Well, I think if there was a little scene where WALL-E checked to make sure that the robo-corpse had filled out an organ donor card, the whole thing would be much less distressing (and therefore less effective). As for stem cell research, it doesn’t really fit the allegory unless you assume that embryos are people, and I’d just as soon not open that particular can of worms in this space.
There is an interesting point in there somewhere, though, about how certain activities are acceptable when performed by a doctor in a hospital, but horrifying when performed by a civilian in a garbage dump. Institutional distance, baby!
p.s. Fenzel, let me just say that I’m shocked – shocked! – that you chose to comment about bioethics and not about John Saxon.
Shana – not only that, but the film reinforces the classic hollywood dynamic of exceedingly sexy girls (an Imac being the current gold standard for computer sexiness), winding up with exceedingly shlubby guys.
What about the “Cannibal (E)Pocalypse?”
On the “Wall-E is a cannibal” topic, I think the film got away with that – and some other things – not because he was cute but because he was a robot. Stealing body parts from another robot isn’t the same as stealing body parts from a person. Although, interestingly, the film didn’t show Wall-E taking the other robot’s treads. They did it during a cut, probably so audiences wouldn’t get squeamish about it.
This all brings up the question: if we’re supposed to care about Wall-E as a “person,” then why do we, the audience, not care when other robots bite the dust? For instance, remember the part where the Captain throws one of the Evil Robots out the window onto the Lido deck and it just goes kersplat right next to the pool? Did anyone else find that mildly disturbing? I mean, if it were a person, Pixar would cut away, I’m sure. And for a G-rated film, there sure was a lot of violence… but it was robot-on-robot violence, which is totally cool.
Now I don’t know what to feel.
Actually, there is a scene clearly showing Wall-E at home, removing his new treads and hanging them up for the night, similar to the late great Mister Rogers hanging up his red cardigan between episodes. In Wall-E’s anatomy, treads aren’t exactly body parts; they’re more like working boots. I think we can all agree that stealing shoes off a dead man (which I believe is done routinely in WW2 and Vietnam War movies) is not an activity reserved for just the Undead.
And what about Wall-E’s collection of eyes which he kept in his home? U think that does count for ghoulish activity.