This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
jacob mouradian’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I don't know how many times I've seen this; I've lost count by now. My original DVD copy, one of the best gifts I ever received, got so much wear-and-tear that it became unplayable. Thankfully my girlfriend gifted me a Blu-ray replacement of it for my birthday (another all-time gift, if I do say so), and we finally got around to watching it together.
In each period of my life that which I re-watch WALL•E, something different seems to stand out. As a teenager, its satirization of consumerism and its environmentalist musings were keynotes; in late high school and early college, the quality of the animation itself was most prominent -- from the detail put into each intricate facet of its dystopian universe to the brilliant nuances of motion imbued into each character's essence of being; in late college, the filmmakers' penchant for visual storytelling solely through action was monumental, as was their reliance on sound design and their limited discernible dialogue (hugely inspirational in how I approached my own senior thesis).
Now, as an adult, what stands out to me most is the vastness of the questions it poses.
For instance, why does WALL•E have a personality in the first place? What benefit does a robot -- a piece of machinery with one intended purpose -- have for individuality, or furthermore, self-awareness? Is this some sort of consciously programmed line of code on his human creators' part, intended for self-preservation? If WALL•E and his numerous robotic cohorts have a basic sense of autonomy, and by extension an understanding of death, then one would think they'd do all they can to make sure they take care of themselves and don't work their, um..."bodies" towards eventual destruction via exhaustion, right? We see numerous examples of this, from WALL•E replacing his rusted tracks to switching out his busted eye for an untampered one.
But exactly how much knowledge of his own anatomy, or even his own existence, does WALL•E have? In the expository opening act, WALL•E passes a lot of broken-down counterparts, but doesn't even feign so much as a nervous chirp. Does he even view them as "dead” in the first place? If so, has he numbed himself to the fact that he's surrounded by hundreds of metal corpses, cognitively supposing any sort of psychological trauma he may be harboring, just to keep from becoming a nervous wreck in this post-apocalyptic landscape? (And what of those broken-down robots themselves? Were they self-aware at the times of their own death, suffering as they “died” from either insufficient access to replacement parts or inability to find shelter in the midst of a chaotic climactic catastrophe?)
Also, does WALL•E know exactly which specific parts replacements will have what certain effects on him? In the final act, when he urges EVE to take him back home so that he can replace his motherboard-like apparatus, does he know that that runs the risk of "resetting" his psyche? And if EVE wasn't there to help revive his memory in the final scene, would he have continued on with his trash compacting as if nothing happened? Is robotic autonony nothing but an acknowledged accessory, one that can be discarded if necessary?
It’s a terrifying technological precedent that director Stanton and the entire Pixar creative team is proposing: progress at the expense of the past; self-sustained longevity with possible amnesia as a trade-off. In a way its the Silicon Valley culture metaphorically (and perhaps ironically) satirizing its own mindset, where exploitative labor and other questionable practices are passed off under the guise of being “revolutionary”, with little to no research into possible moral quandaries that they may germinate.
Is WALL•E’s personality a sort of evolutionary development…a sort of Asimovian, “Ghost in the Machine”-like trait that's arisen in the wake of hundreds of years of exile on a destroyed Earth?
This wouldn't account for EVE's own sense of autonomy, though, as she -- and the rest of the robotic staff aboard the Axiom -- appear to be of much more recent design, so this "Ghost in the Machine" "evolution" wouldn't've had nearly as much time to develop in them as it would have in the Earth-bound WALL•E....Unless it's some sort of universe-wide robotic evolution that's taking place? some sort of universal consciousness to which all machines can tune in and contribute towards their own collective knowledge? a nebulous "cloud", if you will, out amongst the stars?
(I should probably clarify that I know next to nothing about robotics or computing and I'm just philosophically spit-balling at this point, in case you didn't already clue in on that.)
Even the very existence of the remnants of humanity aboard the Axiom raises a whole lot of questions. Based on the BnL advertisement seen at the beginning of the film, it seems like the Axiom was destined as a luxury cruise liner ✨ in space ✨ rather than a survival ark for planetary evacuation. The spaceship is big, but it's not that big -- if we're being generous, it might have the space to hold the entire population of a single city, tops. So...how does it keep operating for over 700 years? How is food generated? Where do supplies come from? Are they all generated digitally, like the new clothes the passengers change into with just the press of a button?
We can also assume that the only people on the ship are those who are wealthy and/or affluent enough to afford an extraterrestrial cruise...but at what point in a 700-year-long self-imposed exile from Earth would basic economic structure start to lose its value? Obviously they haven't shifted to a society free of consumerism, which would presuppose that the concept of capital still plays a deciding role in everyone's life -- from the lack of consumer inhibition amongst the hover-chair-bound patrons to the amusingly heavyhanded indoctrination of brand loyalty at a young age. But how have these passengers and their ancestors maintained their wealth for 700 years by simply...not doing anything? I know there's something to be said about the disgustingly exorbitant wealth of the top one percent on Earth in this current day and age and the neverending insidiousness of capitalism and class warfare, but how could that maintain itself while secluded in the vast reaches of outer space for seven centuries on a cruise ship without devolving to some class-sequestered dystopia á la SNOWPIERCER? At what point does exchanges of money in the ship's a cloistered system ultimately becomes benign? And what of the not-as-wealthy people on the Axiom? Are there people who, over these 700 years, would've run out of money faster, and if so exactly how are they able to maintain the level of luxury that their richer counterparts can maintain? (Something tells me they haven't evolved to some sort of egalitarian utopia given the self-absorbed selfishness of the passengers and "Buy! Buy! Buy!" mentality that the Axiom's shopping centers continuously push.) Exactly when did the Axiom morph from a temporary vacation spot into a full-fledged mini society, and how? Has the auto-pilot, "Auto", and the crew of robots quietly and insidiously dismantled the need for capital to be gained, keeping the humans in some technologically-saturated fugue state that's like Brave New World meets THE MATRIX?
And what of the people who didn't want to or couldn't afford tickets on the BnL fleet in the first place??? Were they just left to die on what became a literally scorched Earth?! What happened to the people on the other BnL ships??? Are they still wandering aimlessly in space?!?! Have their contained societies evolved for better or for worse -- or at all???
(I'm just spit-balling again here -- I'm not an economist, sociologist, nor anthroplogist, either.)
But that's not to suggest that the existence of these questions are overall detrimental to Stanton's film. Quite the opposite, actually, as I find the vast possibilities they present to be potentially mind-blowing. It's at once frustrating for its seeming lack of clarity (and ignorance of nuance to maintain a G-rated, streamlined simplicity), and yet simultaneously fascinating for its extensive ambiguity. It leaves me content with its narrative limitations but also begging for more, and nearly a decade on I can't prevent myself from returning to this fun, peculiar, and beautiful piece of pop culture time and time again.
Flawed and flawless, all in the same step; a "directive" of a staggering nature.