Ever since Walt Disney made the first feature length cartoon in 1937, mainstream animated films have most often been fairy-tales, a genre primarily about children/adolescents learning the ways of the world and growing into adulthood. But Pixar’s WALL-E (Stanton, 2008) is something deeper. It is a myth, a genre about what it means to be human. Not only that, I also think it is a substantially true myth. I think this is why WALL-E has been generating such hyperbolic reviews. People are unconsciously connecting to their vocation as humans. Or, as the movie puts it, it’s about finding your true “directive.”
WALL-E is the story of humanity’s creation, fall, and redemption. In other words, it is the Christ-story — with a cute, little robot as an unlikely Christ-figure. In the movie, several characters have misunderstood or even forgotten their directives. M-O blindly follows his directive to obliterate all “foreign contaminates”. likewise Auto continues to follow his directive even after circumstances have changed. Only EVE is able to be flexible about her directive and to take into account how following it affects her relationship to others. But most significantly, the Captain and other humans have completely forgotten what their directive is. In Christian terms, they are “fallen” creatures.
So what is the human directive, according to the film? To love one another and to take care of the earth. This is exactly the same directive given to Adam and Eve in the Biblical creation story. “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). In other words, make human communities (“be fruitful and multiply”) and take care of the earth (“have dominion”).
If this is our directive, then to be fallen is to have deviated from this. We have forgotten that having dominion over the earth is to be in a position of caretaker. Instead we have used the earth for our own selfish purposes. We have created technology that (in Heideggerian terminology) “uses up” nature rather than “letting the earth be earth”. Instead of taking responsibility and being a servant-leader of the earth, we have created technology to make it serve us. And, as WALL-E demonstrates, this has ironically lead to us being slaves of our technology.
What we need, then, is a savior. We need a new Adam to fix the mistakes of the original Adam. We need someone to come and make it possible for us to fulfill our original directive, freeing us from our slavery to our own human constructions and teaching us to live in harmony with the world. In short, we need Jesus. Or WALL-E. Like Christ, the film’s hero teaches the humans to reconnect to one another and brings them the means to live into their directive, defeating the forces that kept them in slavery. And, also like Christ, he gives up his own life in the process but is reborn.
Along with his EVE, this new Adam is the first parent of a new creation, a new community of humans finally living the way they were intended to live. In Christian terms, WALL-E ends with Pentecost, the birth of the Church. This is the true myth. But it also a cartoon about cute robots.