When Life is Lifeless
by Katelyn Liu
Behind guise of a cute children’s movie hides an ugly dystopia that bears semblance to the reality of the present world around us. In the 2008 Pixar film, WALL-E (2008), Earth has become a wasteland filled with trash, forcing humans to evacuate by luxury starliners like the Axiom while robots, like WALL-E, are commissioned to clean the planet. Hundreds of years go by and Earth is deemed uninhabitable. Generations of humans come to know life exclusively on the spaceships, becoming morbidly obese due to inactivity and the microgravity of the spaceship. Passengers interact with one another through the holographic screens in front of them and pass the time through virtual activities. In a comical display, the captain of the ship asks for the definition of simple activities like, “sea,” “dancing,” and “farm,” indicating that the futuristic amenities and lifestyle aboard the ship meant to entertain its passengers has stripped all resemblance the life back on planet Earth. Reflecting the reality of rapid technological progression, WALL-E comes to question: How is life sustained?
WALL-E is the movie’s unlikely protagonist, as he bumbles along collecting trinkets among the trash. One day, EVE, a sleek and modern probe, is left on Earth in search of any sign of life. WALL-E presents to EVE a small sprout that he finds among the trash, fulfilling EVE’s directive is to safeguard the plant life. Once the plant is returned to the Axiom, the evidence of hospitable life on Earth triggers the starship’s journey back home. For the majority of the film, the “dialogue” for the majority of the film is comprised of conversations between WALL-E and EVE in a variety of mechanical chirps and creaking. WALL-E and EVE are anthropomorphized by mimicking human life seen on old videos, displaying emotions like frustration and fear, and exploring the desire for companionship and love. Ultimately, the main non-human characters, WALL-E and EVE, are given more life and personality than any human upon the Axiom spaceship.
Overall, the film uses color as a device to represent life. As the audience observes WALL-E explore the abandoned planet, WALL-E himself and the world around him is colored in dingy browns and a constant yellow haze. The first indication of life comes through the verdant green of the delicate life that WALL-E finds (Figure 2). Here, the connection between green and life is established. Later on, only the neon yellow-green on WALL-E’s solar panel charger and EVE’s indicator light after she absorbs the plant come closest to matching the greenness the initial display of life. Even aboard the Axiom, with a variety of lights and displays to keep its passengers distracted, there is no green imagery or colors that bring back the initial association of greenery with life.
Aboard the ship, one of the most interesting lifestyle habits was observed through the passengers’ eating habits. Every meal is drunk and food selection is nonexistent; the choice is simply labeled “breakfast,” “lunch,” and “dinner.” With such rigidity and mundane food options, it seems strange that every passenger is degenerated to obesity. The widespread and chronic obesity inhibits even basic human movement like walking, or supporting themselves after they have fallen from their hovering chairs. Despite their liquid meals sustaining their physical life, the choice of inactivity in exchange for comfort has left humanity devoid of real interaction with the world around them. When WALL-E accidentally deactivates a woman’s screen, she looks around the ship and remarks, “I didn’t know we had a pool!” The comfort of even having food so readily available, food meant to sustain life, does not replace the choice of interacting and thinking, essential to truly living one’s life. In a world where technology’s main directive is to make life easier and more comfortable, perhaps it is activity, movement, and labor, which bring life in living life.
WALL-E. Dir. Andrew Stanton. By Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon. Perf. by Ben Burtt and Elissa Knight. Walt Disney Studios. 2008.