Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Defining the Christian Movie Part 5: WALL•E (2008)


     Bet you weren’t expecting this movie to finish off the series. I said in my first article of the series that I arranged these movies from the more explicit (about Christianity) to the more subtle. At one end of the spectrum, you have films like “Fireproof” and “Jonah” that are either set in the church or based around an actual Bible story. As you get towards the middle of the spectrum, you find films like “To Save a Life” and “The Mission” that are set within ministries of the church but don’t preach—that is, they allow the audience to imply for themselves what to think about Christianity. And then, on the other end of the spectrum, you have films like this one. And I feel like the whole series has been leading up to this. So today, concluding the “Defining the Christian Movie” series, I am going to try to answer the question: Is “WALL•E” a Christian movie?

     “WALL•E” is set 700 years in the future, where Earth has become literally a trash heap. Skyscrapers, if still standing, are covered in dust. Garbage covers every single street. And every night, the winds blow a storm of dust, covering the land again. And there isn’t a human in sight. The movie’s first line of dialogue (and if you’ve seen the movie, you know that there is very little dialogue) is from a holographic billboard that speaks: “Too much garbage in your face? There’s plenty of space out in space!” The billboards advertise spaceships for BnL, a company that I can only describe as a futuristic Costco. BnL spaceships take people on a vacation in space while robots clean up trashy Earth. Somewhere along the line, humans stayed in space for so long that they left Earth all alone. But one robot is still there.

     This robot is WALL•E (voiced… sort of… by sound designer Ben Burtt). His name is an acronym for “Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class”. And he’s the only robot on Earth that’s still running, taking Earth’s trash and either disposing of it or keeping it for himself. Among hundreds of other objects, he’s collected a Rubik’s cube, a light bulb, a Chihuahua bobble head, a Spork, and a videotape of “Hello, Dolly!” And as we see WALL•E put on the tape and watch the characters falling in love, we see his lonely situation and how he longs for the same.

     Then one day, a spaceship lands, and out comes EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator; voiced by Elissa Knight, a Pixar employee), a white robot whose mission is to find plant life on Earth. WALL•E is immediately smitten. Eventually, EVE meets him, and their friendship begins. He shows her his trash collection, the Rubik’s cube, the light bulb, the video. But then he shows her a new item in his collection: a plant he found growing in a shoe full of soil. Unaware of EVE’s mission, he gives it to her, and EVE starts lighting up and making noises. A door opens in her stomach, she sucks the plant in, and she shuts off. WALL•E tries taking care of her, but she doesn’t seem to be waking up—not even when the spaceship comes back and picks her up. WALL•E follows her into space, holding on tight to the spaceship, and he finds the Axiom, the biggest of the BnL spaceships.

     The Axiom is captained by… well, the captain (Jeff Garlin) and his autopilot control (voiced literally by a MacInTalk), who have inherited the ship by the time of the seven-hundredth anniversary of the Axiom’s five-year cruise. The members of the cruise consist of hundreds—at least—of humans who, because of the conditions in space, turned into fat, baby-like people. WALL•E goes through them to find EVE and help get the plant to the captain. But when the autopilot finds out, it starts taking over the ship so that the humans can’t go back to Earth.

     But to make a long story short, the captain gets the plant, the Axiom heads towards Earth, and WALL•E and EVE fall in love. And the movie ends with a shot of Earth, looking just a little cleaner than it did at the beginning of the film, with a love song from “Hello, Dolly!” playing underneath. Now, some of you are probably thinking: where the heck did you get the idea that “WALL•E” is a Christian movie? What’s so Christian about it? Well, it’s in the subtle references. And there are a lot of them.

     One of them you probably already noticed. Doesn’t it seem a strange coincidence that the only robot on Earth, and a lonely one at that, would be visited by a female (I guess) robot named EVE? And doesn’t it seem a strange coincidence that EVE is white as a dove, coming to look for plant life to return to the ship as a sign that Earth is sustainable for human life again? Yes, I am implying the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah and the flood. Trust me, this isn’t a coincidence.

     When “WALL•E” was first released, writer/director Andrew Stanton, who had already been with Pixar Animation Studios since the beginning, did an interview with Christianity Today Magazine about the film and its Biblical themes. Interviewer Mark Moring told Stanton about how he saw them:

Moring: There seem to be some biblical themes in this film. WALL•E is sort of like Adam, the only "guy" on earth, lonely, longing for a companion…?

Stanton: Yes, and that's certainly why I picked EVE as an appropriate title for the female robot. But "Adam" just didn't have the underdog ring to it as the main character. WALL•E was a little bit more sad sack—and I could find an acronym that could work for that. But definitely it had that first man, first female theme.

Moring: There's also a bit of Noah's Ark story here, with the humans on the space station, waiting for a chance to repopulate the earth—but having to wait till EVE comes back with plant life to indicate it's okay?

Stanton: I wasn't using the Noah's Ark story as a guide, but through circumstances, I loved the parallels of EVE almost being like this dove, of going down for proof that it's time to come back. It just worked in that allegory, so I ran with it.

Moring: And that wasn't planned?

Stanton: No, it always works backward. It's more like, Wow, look what this sort of feels like. So you run with those things, because they're very primal. In my mind they're very much in the core of our storytelling. So much of the Old Testament is sort of built into our DNA.

Moring: I've read other stories where you've talked about your Christian faith a bit. Can you tell me how your faith informs your creativity and your work?

Stanton: They tell you that as a storyteller, it's vital to just stick with and be honest with your values system. The last thing I want to do is go to a movie and feel like I'm being preached to or being told how to be, and I think it's more honest—and you're going to have more effect—to be truthful with the values of your characters, working off of your own values. That was the case with WALL•E. The greatest commandment is to love one another, and to me, that's the ultimate purpose of living. So that was the perfect goal for the loneliest robot on earth, to learn the greatest commandment, to learn to love.

     Yeah. Andrew Stanton’s pretty cool. So in conclusion, yes, I say that “WALL•E” is a Christian movie. It’s a very subtly Christian movie, but Christian nonetheless. For one thing, some of the filmmakers (including the one in charge) were Christians. For another thing, the film is loaded with Biblical references: characters’ names, situations based off of Scripture, and so on. But my guess is, you probably won’t see this in many Christian bookstores, because the Christian element is so subtle.

     But that’s where Matthew 11:15 comes in. One of Jesus’ best ways of teaching was in parables. He told stories of everyday people and occurrences that related to the kingdom of God and how to get there. And because of this, he could easily separate believers from non-believers. Non-believers would take Jesus’ parables literally, not understanding them and forsaking the Way. But many believers would listen to Jesus more, in order to fully understand what his parables meant. They had the faith to learn more. And this is who Jesus refers to when he says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

     So, my prayer for you, the reader, is that you will have the faith—and the ears—to hear what Jesus is teaching you today, even when it takes time to think about. And I also pray that you will find Him in even the subtlest of ways—even in the movies.

     The interview with Andrew Stanton was posted June 24, 2008, to Christianity Today. It can be found at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/movies/interviews/2008/andrewstanton.html

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