August 24, 2008


Wall-E is a brand name- that is important for the rest of the film- and its the name the robot who bears the brand has taken as his own. He is a small garbage compressor living on an earth deserted by human beings and other robots and left to him and a friendly cockroach to inhabit. The first half of this film follows the insect and the robot around. The second half develops from the moment Wall-E meets another robot, Eve, and the humans who have left earth- but the story from there on in is far too interesting, exciting and to tell more would ruin it. Suffice it to say that there are robots cooing, cockroaches tickling robots and a robot obsessed with old musicals, where men and women dance together, watching them in the loneliness of a paradise of rubbish.

But the film has a message as well as a story, and whilst I don't want to ruin the story, I do think I can ruin the message. The real question here is an old one- which is what is happiness and how is it achieved. At one point in the film a character says that he would prefer to live than to survive. In a sense those alternatives are the alternatives open in the film all the time- to risk and live, to enjoy and survive. We see the alternatives mapped out throughout the film. What the film suggests is that there is a clear hierarchy of pleasures. Take the beggining, Wall-E exists in some sense, he has his wants fulfilled in the world that he inhabits to begin with. Most of the humans in the story are at that stage in their development too- and the film implies that the market meets their needs well. They have milkshakes assigned by computer to them, they have advertising, they have TV and they have all the stimulation that you need: but they and Wall-E lack that which goes beyond survival, they lack life.

The alternative is more risky and less market driven because it is more individual- and that is that you live in order not to survive but to be happy. The point is that the profit motive does not very well describe what that kind of happiness might be- partly because it is so individual. The fil though does demonstrate what it might look like- love is a form of that happiness, so is interest. That happiness does not need glossy adverts nor the kind of superfluous waste that Wall-E collects on earth. Its a trite conclusion- but whilst watching this film I felt its force- in part because before it I had been forced to sit through a plethora of adverts. Half an hour of corporate swill rammed down my throat despite the fact that my ticket had cost me 12 pounds, half an hour of corporate swill most of which involved persuading people that love was about toned bodies, that sex was the ultimate good, that a new toy is the best way to look after your child and that what you really need in life is a mobile phone tarrif of under 30 pounds- that these are the things you ought to care about and spend your time worrying about.

You see the message of Wall-E is a big raspberry to all of this- so what if T-Mobile offers you a slightly lower tarrif, the idea that love is about toned bodies is laughable and immoral, the idea that a new toy is the best way to look after your kid is also immoral- the truth is that none of those things will get you any nearer to happiness. The point of Wall-E is trite- but its one that is so often forgotten that it enters the class of truisms that needs shouting from the rooftop- most of the good things in life are things that you cannot use mastercard for, and they are the things worth fighting, investing and sometimes dying for. Wall-E the brand is a pile of trash ultimately- dispensible and often harmful to our lives (if useful economically)- Wall-E the individual is to be valued and loved. Brands have their place in the life of society- but individuals should always be paramount.


Anonymous said...

True enough but more important is the choices we make and the stuff we do...

Guardian Angel said...

I haven't seen this film yet but when I saw the trailer, it reminded me the film Short Circuit.

Anyway, it looks like we need such films today to remind us the basic need of man to live a life - happiness.