Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Disney Directive

Prior to seeing Wall-E, I read one reviewer’s comments which explained how while he was watching the film he felt as if he knew how it was to see Star Wars or 2001: A Space Odyssey in the movie theatre when they first came out-seeing the Star Destroyer moving endlessly across the screen or the psychedelic effects of the latter film. I see how the writer came to this conclusion. Wall-E is both breathtaking and a breath of fresh air.

The expansive environments presented at the beginning of the film are awe-inspiring yet somber in their depiction of a neglected world. And really, the whole film follows a similar tonality. While humanity may be at the height of its technological advancements, having produced some amazing tools, devices and machines to help maintain a comfortable existence, man has reached a plateau in its psychological-and physical-development. The results are striking.

The fact that the audience does not get a glimpse of an actual human-save for a few fleeting images on the makeshift movie screen at his “residence”-until about half-way through the movie reinforces the audience’s perception that the robots in this film, Eve and Wall-E in particular, are more human than any other character. The overweight, over-stimulated human populace is for the most part comprised of mindless masses. The one human who does rise to the occasion so to speak and seek to overhaul the cyclic nature of the human race at this point, is no more than a figurehead for the deep, meaningful ideology already iterated in, not the words, but the visuals and interactions between Wall-E and his world, Eve’s mission and of course the relationship that blossoms almost quite literally, between Wall-E and Eve. The captain of the ship, default leader of the human population is far from being the film’s protagonist-I could hardly arrive at an accurate guess of his name.

Wall-E's message of being pro-active about our planet's environment is certainly clear, but it is from the subtleties of the characters’ actions that more profound truths can be unearthed. The majority of Wall-E teaches without speaking, Wall-E instructs by example. Wall-E’s daily collection of what one might otherwise deem trash at the least or trinkets at the most is a beautiful representation of the value and joy that can be found in the most simple of items and the smaller gems of life. What do we take away from every day we are given in this life? What do we leave behind? With Eve, the probe sent by the Axiom spacecraft to investigate signs of organic life on Earth, we also see inherently human behavior and psychological evolution take place within her character. “Directive” she states, over and over as she continues to scan her surroundings. She gestures toward the plant logo located on the upper left of her gleaming white torso. Her “directive,” her occupation, is in the place of her heart. When she realizes where her heart truly lies, what she is fighting for, forgoing the orders of her programming, it is a heart-melting moment. The plant symbol dims and she and Wall-E know that doing the right thing, following one’s heart, doesn’t always mean following simple orders. We are part of a bigger picture and catching sight of that is never an easy process.

I just saw Intiman Theatre's incredible performance of Tennessee William’s play, “A Streetcar Named Desire" and in Blanche DuBois’ view of the world, however naïve, she describes "those long afternoons when a piece of eternity drops into our hands and we don't know what to do with it." In writing about Wall-E now, these words strongly resonated in my mind. Our minutes, hours and days are but pieces of something larger, our lives for one, but even our lives are firmly rested within the timeline of humanity. We give and take from this world, but what responsibility do we have when that moment comes when have taken too much, when the harmony we have with Earth has been thrown wholly out of balance? Wall-E depicts humans running from that responsibility, leaving its technological creations to clean up the mess, naively thinking that in time, balance can be restored. 700 years after humans left Earth, its offspring have all but forgotten how to live, much less what Earth was. In fact, when the humans finally do make it back to Earth in Wall-E, it was the only moment I took issue with the film. Does it not also seem naïve to think that with starting with one small budding plant, humans can survive, thrive and live within a symbiotic relationship with Earth? I see the need for a self-contained narrative-and I think it was wonderfully done-however, the resolution for the human race and their now desolate world is far from simple-as is the resolution for our present environmental crisis.

Wall-E is a beautiful, heartfelt film and with it Pixar and the genius present in its team of writers, artists and producers have set new standards in the realm of creative story-telling, visuals and consequential and evocative filmmaking. Wall-E is multi-layered, full of complexity, expertly crafted and moving, characteristics which few other films this year can claim.

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