Every now again I go out on a date with two ladies instead of one. Yesterday I had the privilege to have Kayla (almost 7) and Kylene (4.5) with me on each arm for a fun, but expensive, time at the movies. Apart from the amount of money that movies, drinks and popcorn bleed out of a father's wallet we had a delightful time with a little robot named WALL*E. To be quite honest we usually enjoy the Pixar fare and this film did not disappoint. In fact, without being preachy, it explored some very interesting facets of being a human being on planet earth; quite surprising for a computer animated eye feast taking place for the most part in the far reaches of space.
Plot Summary (Warning - spoiler here)
The film begins with a desolate earth cityscape which for some strange reason reminded me of the abandoned Manhattan of the recent I AM LEGEND flick. This futuristic world is overrun with garbage with the human beings long gone and apparently did not do a good job with waste management. What the humans did do before launching off into space on a luxury cruise liner was leave robots with the acronym WALL*E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) on the ground to compact and take out the trash. After 700 years one of the bots was still ticking and pursuing his objective of making small cubes of trash and stacking them in an orderly fashion. Having such a long time for the job this last little WALL*E has literally made sky-scrapers of the mountains of trash. His best friend is a little cock roach named who I believe is named HAL. Their friendship was quite funny.
During our last days on earth a large corporation has taken over (with the ironic name "Big and Large") and sought to satisfy every consumer delight we could ever imagine. The end game of all this consumption was a trashed planet earth and an escape to a luxury cruise ship in space known as the "Axiom" while WALL*Es work to de-trash the wasted planet. On the Axiom human life is reduced to lounging on floating couches, eating shakes flavored like all sorts of foods and being idiotized by holographic TV screens all day long. The human beings have been reduced to a vegetative like state where humans loose their bone density and get enormously chunky.
Every so often the Axiom sends out EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) modules to see if new life can be found on the earth. Apparently all the EVEs always came back empty as the Axiomites seem to have no hope of earth's rejuvenation. However, WALL*E has found a little seedling growing in the tarnished terra nova of the trashed earth. Interestingly, WALL*E falls for EVE and they have a nice little budding friendship when he gives her the plant as a gift. At this point she grabs it, places it in her belly and goes into sleep mode. To make a long story short, the probe ship returns, grabs EVE and WALL*E hitches a ride through the cosmos back to the AXIOM.
On the AXIOM the two rouge robots work with the humans to re-grasp hope and purpose in order to head back to earth as stewards to re-populate the earth. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth...rule over it and subdue - Part 2 if you will. This time as stewards of the land rather than rapers thereof.
I found the story fun and compelling and a bit surprising. Rather than being a space age sci-fi flick it is a very human and earthy affair dealing with interesting philosophical issues - much like the new Battlestar Gallactica...yet rated G. In what follows is a few of the things we enjoyed following the little square through the galaxies.
Bright Points in WALL*E
Critique of Lazy Consumption
In the story human beings sink to quite a low. Instead of Homo Sapiens (thinking beings) the human beings in WALL*E have been Homo Consumptorus, creatures that take in and produce trash without regard for the planet. Additionally, they love being pampered in five star luxury so much that not a one of them works or thinks or learns. They are simply lobotomized by service robots doing everything for them and constant blathering media numbing their minds. Now it is a bit ironic to get this message at "a movie" but it comes through powerfully nonetheless.
Hard work, moderation, learning and relationships with human beings are put forth as a remedy to laziness, excess, passive minds and individual isolation. I was refreshed by this and found my kids very teachable - I now have a new illustration to use when I joke around with them about their minds turning to mush from watching too many cartoons. We are not Luddites in our family, nor do we avoid all media, but we do want to read, think, pray and worship as a family and not become people on floating Axiom lounge chairs. Kayla and Ky got a kick out of getting that message from a place other than Dad - thank you Pixar.
When things start to change, the captain of the Axiom chooses active learning over lounging around and discovers that the earth and all that is there is quite glorious, full of a wonder and majesty. He realizes he needs to get back and get to work - to learn and live rather than survive in a robot pampered "paradise."
Creation Stewardship, Not Creation Worship
If you miss the environmental message of this movie you are simple asleep or perhaps have been on the Axiom too long yourself. WALL*E is mercilessly green in its message but surprising at the same time. Most green visions are political and preachy and can at times make a god out of mother nature. Additionally, some green ideas teach that human beings are not special in nature and are just a part of the big biosphere like barnacles and bacteria. You will not find such fare in WALL*E. In this vision both humans and creation have their place and the view here is quite biblical.
In Scripture human beings are called by God to rule and care for the created order; it has been made for them and they are to be good stewards of the earth. There is a fascinating scene in WALL*E when the captain of the Axiom holds the little seedling and says - you are going to be alright fella, you just needed someone to take care of you. It is obvious that he means the earth as well as the little green sprig before him. In this film, Humans are specially called to care for the earth - this view is not consistent in worldviews which do not have man as a special creation of God.
One other facet of WALL*E I found very interesting. In most stories involving a post apocalyptic earth and humans escaping to the stars the idea is to flee from earth and find a new home among the galaxies. In this film, earth was and remains the home for human life - our station in space is only temporary - we need the earth to survive. I thought it was a nice touch to see humans go home rather than leave it. The credits even show a "new history" unfold after the Axiom returns - quite creative.
So much of secular modern discourse explains all of life in terms of "survival." Why do we do what we do? So our genes will pass on and we will survive as a species! We have to evolve, we are just a part of nature, we will do anything to live and mate just to do that over and over and over again. It is no wonder why human beings find such "truth" to be unlivable. All manner of thinkers have desired to avoid the conclusion of secular/non theistic thought.
The atheist attempts to be brave and bold in the embrace of the empty meaninglessness of life. The new atheists try to be brave, bold and rude - isn't that special. The existentialists looked at nihilism - that life has no ultimate meaning - and said "we will irrationally choose to create our own meaning in the act of choosing" - those wild and crazy guys.
Yet there is another view of life - that of LIVING and not just surviving. That of seeing that life has ultimate meaning and value rather than trying to create it on our own. In WALL*E there is a line, I think it was from the Captain, that lights up the dark night. The robots want to keep the humans from going back to earth in the name of "survival" and the captain shouts out "I don’t want to survive I want to live." I think humans will always feel this way. There is a greater search in life than merely keeping a float the existence and propagation of human DNA. Long ago Blaise Pascal wrestled with the dilemma we faces before an immense universe.
I see the terrifying immensity of the universe which surrounds me, and find myself limited to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am set down here rather than elsewhere, nor why the brief period appointed for my life is assigned to me at this moment rather than another in all the eternity that has gone before and will come after me. On all sides I behold nothing but infinity, in which I am a mere atom, a mere passing shadow that returns no more. All I know is that Imust soon die, but what I understand least of all is this very death which I cannot escape.As I know not whence I come, so I know not whither I go. I only know that on leaving this world I fall for ever into nothingness or into the hands of a wrathful God, without knowing to which of these two states I shall be everlastingly consigned. Such is my condition, full of weakness and uncertainty. From all this I conclude that I ought to spend every day of my life without seeking to know my fate. I might perhaps be able to find a solution to my doubts; but I cannot be bothered to do so, I will not take one step towards its discovery.
The captain of the Axiom found the search worthwhile and overturned the robots and turned the ship towards earth. Indeed, the soul itself longs for LIFE and a home...and is restless until it finds it. Two voices from our past come to mind.
Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee? - Augustine's Confessions
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly - Jesus, The Gospel of John chapter 10
Love and Relationship a New Directive
Finally, I enjoyed the humanity of the robots in WALL*E. These robots were personified yet not turned into humans. They took on human traits to teach us about being human, they were not in the universe to replace us as is common in other robot fare. Each robot has a "directive" a purpose for which it was made. The robot does what it was made to do and nothing else - yet there is an interesting aspect that peeks out in the film. The directive that ends up over-riding all others was that of love and friendship.
Some may wonder why yet another film is put forth with a future where God and religion are simply not present. Many times sci-fi writers present a godless future because this is their hope and expectation - that worship will some day be quenched like a flickering flame. I get frustrated at how often the futures presented by Hollywood have no mention of spiritual life and reality. Some may be tempted to see WALL*E as another such film. I did not see this one that way - just as in the biblical book of Esther, where God is not named, his fingerprints seemed evident to me in this story. Whether people would acknowledge it or not, I found the worldview of WALL*E to be quite biblical...I don't know that its hopes, its stewardship, its low and high view of humanity could be found anywhere else.
I liked WALL*E and I liked WALL*E the little robot - he is funny, he is cute, he is caring, he is daring, he is hopeful and he loved what is good...I think we all could use a little more of him in each of us - perhaps this was the hope of the minds behind the film. In reality, all echoes of goodness must find their source and such is not in social contracts, the will of men or our DNA. There is no one good but God and we are but mere reflections of that image - we are capable of Axiom-like existences or seeing redemption come to us from the working power of God.
Thankfully our redemption comes through the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, not a cute little robot. Yet that little robot reminded me of important truth - we do need a Savior and he has appeared and calls us forward today. To be good stewards of creation, to love him and our neighbors and to live his mission right here on the earth. His mission is different than the savior cruise ship - he is the ark that saves us and brings us the hope of a Kingdom without death, disease, dying or being over run by trash. His future for us begins today and will be consummated in eternity. He does more than bring us back to earth - he forgives sinners by grace through the work of Jesus on the cross and then brings them to an eternal home with a new heavens and new earth. Such is a blessed hope beyond what is found at the Movies.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
Revelation 21:1-4 ESV