– “The Best of the Decade Project” is an ongoing series of essays written by Match Cuts and The Filmist concerning the finest films of the last ten years.
Andrew Stanton’s WALL•E begins with “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, a tune from Hello Dolly that floods the outer reaches of space, paralleling images of staggering mystery with a simple, unassuming audible joy. The music bounces off vast corridors of darkness then down toward Earth’s orbit, breaking through a blanket of motionless satellites. As Stanton’s birds-eye view jettisons downward, the hazy horizon becomes overwhelmed with skyscrapers of trash, waste, and rusting objects of hollow consumerism, a place chalk full of ignored foreshadowing and void of human existence. Yet the music still resonates clearly, and WALL•E, a worker robot built to clean up the earth, emerges in fragments – first his worn tread, then his small hands, and finally his longing face – a daring emblem of personality amidst a desert of lifelessness.
In the dialogue-less opening act, Stanton brilliantly uses WALL•E’s fondness for show tunes and manmade objects to juxtapose the fall of mankind against an expression of playfulness and curiosity. WALL•E explores the city ruins just as he’s done for hundreds of years, touring for trinkets and piling up cubes of trash sky high, fulfilling a programmed duty while improvising and expanding his unique thought process. Through his actions, we piece together the inevitable decline of human existence – mass consumption, global warming, human evacuation – and revel in the quiet destitution of it all. It’s virtuosic filmmaking that relies on the pacing of image and ambient sound rather than special effects or exposition.
Stanton’s introduction of EVE, the sleek futuristic object of WALL•E’s affection, shifts the film toward moments of slapstick and romantic comedy while expanding the thematic and visual complexities. EVE is a white glowing orb that can fly through the sky at high speeds and decimate any surface with a laser canon arm, and her one goal is to search for new life on Earth. She’s an accidental tourist on a mission she doesn’t understand, but WALL•E sees her as the companion he’s always wanted and needed, an equal worthy of his attention. Even though their initial time together is short, the impact of this meeting unveils layers of consciousness these robots are not supposed to have. This clear desire for connection pushes WALL•E into a grand adventure of impressive action set pieces and daring escapes, all experienced in the hope of locking eyes with EVE long enough for her to understand his devotion.
As WALL•E drifts through the atmosphere, this instinctual need for connection begins to develop beyond his female muse to incorporate every environment he inhabits. This ranges from interactions with other droids to his accidental brushes with humanity. One of the great scenes in the film comes when WALL•E lifts his hand up into river of colorful space dust, finding beauty in the contrast of vibrant color and fascinating texture. The action of touch becomes a common and potent motif throughout the film, whether it’s robots trying to hold hands or humans falling into each other’s arms. Call it an understanding of re-connection, a personalizing of interaction.
But WALL•E does not envision mankind through a rose-colored lens. The film views space not as the final frontier, but as a potential final resting place for the human race. Bloated by seven centuries of apathy and isolated by technological bubbles, these humans are ripe for critique and vitriol, ripe for the picking. They have mindlessly languished on the epic Axiom space liner without a care in the world, breeding generations of coagulated lost souls unaware of their infinite jaunt into oblivion, happy with the inconsequence.
However, Stanton finds the grace in mankind’s ability to break out of this vicious cycle, focusing on our hibernating need for that same physical connection WALL•E longs for so dearly. The ensuing battle against the subtle control of artificial intelligence, menacing in its clarity and consistency to stay the course, plays into the desperate need for an ideological revolution, something WALL•E has achieved years ago. We recognize modern society’s increasing inaction and lethargy in the film’s nightmarish vision of mankind, and it’s to the film’s credit that we get a second chance despite this horrific outcome.
In the end, WALL•E inadvertently saves the world by following his heart, framing ecological warnings, social nightmares, and haunting delusions of grandeur through an epic love story between robots searching for a spark. This is best on display during WALL-E and EVE’s hypnotic space dance, a mesmerizing musical number where connection, touch, and interaction take on a deeper meaning as two supposedly lifeless souls teach us how to live again.
– The Filmist’s # 8 choice, Park Chan Wook’s Oldboy can be found here.