WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
After a good day at the park yesterday (I realized while there that I’ve still got pictures of Micah at the state park beach on my memory card, a sure sign that I’m quite behind on uploading pictures), we went to the dollar theater (which is now the two-dollar theater, but I prefer economy of syllables) to see Wall-E.
Michial Farmer wrote quite a nice post on this movie when it was still a first-run offering, spending most of his time on the relationships between Pixar’s offerings and pop culture in general. His posts on movies are almost always good, so I recommend linking and reading his rather than my little reflection.
Alright. I suppose I’ll say something, then. First, I haven’t been to any retailers since viewing the movie, but if I spot the DVD to this little film being offered at Wal-Mart, I’ll know that the movie is right, that the big-box retailer has in fact taken over the world, so powerful as to make a buck off of movies that label a thinly-veiled Arkansas corporation as the agent that terminates meaningful human life. It would be a step towards world domination, one must admit, for the company that so recently refused to carry a Sheryl Crow album with a reference in the lyrics to the possibility that kids who get their guns at Wal-Mart might shoot each other.
In fact, the heavy-handed polemic, somewhat of a hybrid between Morgan Spurlock, Al Gore, and Scott Simon, ruined the rest of the movie for Mary. She left saying that if the extent of redemption is returning to one’s own trash-heap to try to grow some bean sprouts, that had to be the most depressing move she’d seen in some time. I, on the other hand, found the allusive character of the movie fun enough to overcome the polemic. When the main villain is a clear echo of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey (complete with Strauss in the background during the big fight scene between supersized man and paternalistic machine) and the CEO of Buy N Large corporation (can’t think of what company that might be an echo of) tells his robot lieutenants to “stay the course” when the toxic apocalypse of his own company’s making has made the Earth uninhabitable, this movie is quite obviously not afraid to make references to other movies and events, but it works allusions in subtly, avoiding the club-one-over-the-head hypertextuality of Shark Tale and the Shrek movies.
Beyond that, Wall-E works with memory in a way that most cartoon movies (obviously Finding Nemo is an exception) can’t find. Late in the movie, Eve (she’s the female lead, a sleek model that Michial Farmer rightly labels as similar, visually, to an iPod) gains access to the security tapes recorded while she was effectively comatose, she discovers and thus re-members acts of kindness and companionship that Wall-E (there are actually other WALL-E robots, but I’ll use the mixed capitalization to signify the protagonist) performed for her and, in her own iPoddy way, recognizes his attachment with affection of her own. Later still, when Wall-E sacrifices his hull for the sake of completing Eve’s mission, there’s no real suspense regarding his innards: so long as Eve can get him to his spare parts shack, he’s good to go. The movie by that point has set up early on that the Wall-E character has been self-repairing and recharging for some time (one gets hints that perhaps as many as seven hundred years have passed), so he’s effectively indestructible. But when he revives, a true terror sets in, something that a cartoon has to work hard to muster. Because whatever constitutes memory for a garbage disposal robot has sustained massive damage, Wall-E does not recognize Eve upon rebooting, and against her protestations, he begins mechanically (a strange adverb for a robot, but that’s what shows how great the film is) to perform his garbage disposal duties. Although the parts are moving, a character has died, and I’m certain that, in a world that knows all too well what Alzheimer’s can do to one’s universe, some parts of the audience had to be feeling the knots in their stomachs that I did. My own visceral reaction to that moment was more powerful than I’ve experienced for many movies at all.
Yes, of course that all gets worked out–it’s Disney, after all–but the moment when Wall-E the person has died even though Wall-E the body remains lasts long enough to be agonizing.
Overall I think the movie was well worth the two bucks I laid down at the second-run cinema for each of us. As Michial said better than I could, this movie is all about human beings who have forgotten what it means to hold hands and a trash disposal robot who reminds them. That can’t be a bad starting place.