Last night I saw a scary movie, a science fiction set in the future. But unlike other scary science fictions like "Jurassic Park", "Frankenstein" or "War of the Worlds" where we fear unknown creatures from this world or another, here the fear factors were humans and the world that they live in. Humans from several centuries later, no doubt, but humans nevertheless. And the movie was scary, not because the bleak future it depicted is unfamiliar, but because the future it shows is uncomfortably familiar to the very pleasant present that we live in. The film I am talking about is WALL-E.
The movie starts on a future earth where there are no humans. As far as the eyes can see, there is garbage – fields of junk stuff, skyscrapers made of garbage blocks and mountains of trash. Everywhere there are signs of the human civilization that no longer exists on the dead planet which evidently is unfit to sustain life anymore. Did I say dead? Not completely. There’s a cockroach which roams about in the trash, and there’s his friend WALL-E. He is a robot whose name stands for Waste Allocator and Load Lifter - Earth Class and whose job is to compact trash all day and arrange it into piles of neatly arranged stacks. For almost the first 40 minutes of the film, we hear no dialogue – we see WALL-E at work and hear just the sound of the wind blowing amidst WALL-E’s garbage filled world, snatches of recorded announcements, and a fragment of a movie on a video tape. Just when you start grasping the enormity of the task that lies ahead of WALL-E, something comes down from the sky and changes WALL-E’s life forever.
As I said, the movie scared me. Over the years, we are accustomed to Hollywood films that have been telling us that USA is the savior of the world. This is one that dares to say just the opposite. So when we come face to face with the future humans who buy things based only on advertisements, haven’t looked at the sky or walked on their feet all their lives and depend on robots for the smallest of things, they don’t look strange and ridiculous at all. On the contrary, that society of extreme consumerists and lazy individuals is very much like the American society that I see around me. And aren’t we all, in the rest of the world, inching towards that very future every day? If we continue to cut forests, generate trash and poison the air and the water at the same rate as we are doing now, WALL-E’s terrible lifeless world may become a reality sooner than we may think.
When I went to New York City for the first time and saw Times Square, it was a whole new world for me. Coming from India, I had never seen anything like that before in my life. Those huge glowing displays, video screens and neon signs mesmerized me with their beauty. After watching WALL-E, I’ll probably never look at those signs in the same way, for there is a particular scene in WALL-E which reminded me of Times Square as soon as I saw it, and it made me shiver. Every moment of each day these signs are hypnotizing us, telling us what to buy for our benefit. But do they benefit our society as a whole? Only time will tell.
Regarding the technical aspects of WALL-E, I can say that I have never seen an animated movie like this. The creators tried hard to give each frame the “shot” look rather than the “animated” look, and that is evident from the depth of field of the scenes and focus shifts and other lens shooting artifacts present throughout the movie. This movie also uses live action for a video footage. As I said before, a large part of this movie is devoid of dialogs, and the whole Pixar team watched every single Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton movie for a year and a half to understand visual storytelling. When you learn from the best, it shows in your work. More than once during the movie, I remembered Chaplin’s “Modern Times.” Also, more than once the movie made me laugh out loud although I was watching it alone.
The script is good, but it also has some glaring plot holes. I do not want to name them here as I don’t want to reveal key plot points, but they were evident to even a moderately observant person like me. However, this is one of those rare movies where the technical flaws are overshadowed by the message. I would have been happier though if these obvious mistakes were not made by the Pixar team after making this amazing effort.
WALL-E is one Disney movie which is not completely for the kids. Like a Chaplin classic, or Satyajit Ray’s "Hirak Rajar Deshe", it is immensely funny and enjoyable to the children. But to form the bridge between the fantasy world and the real, and to extract the complete message that the filmmakers so painstakingly put into it, an adult mind is needed. And this is why, in my opinion, WALL-E emerges a class apart from other animated movies. While films like "Shrek", "Finding Nemo", "The Lion King", "Ice Age" or "The Incredibles" all had messages for children, the real message of WALL-E is actually for the parents. Our planet as seen in WALL-E is the planet that the adults of today are leaving for their children. And particularly in the first world countries, parents dream of giving their children the life of the obese human beings of WALL-E who live life without having to move a muscle. Today is being observed as National Walk-to-Work Day in the US, for nobody walks to work anymore. WALL-E warns us against such alarming dependence on machines. WALL-E is also a warning against the growing power of stores who can sell anything to us by advertisements, however absurd or harmful it may be.
In short, WALL-E is a classic that everyone, young or old, must watch. I had given up on Hollywood after watching “Independence Day.” WALL-E tells me there is still hope.