Wall-E is a visually driven movie. Necessarily so in that its main characters cannot speak more than a few words and so action and scene move the film forward. But being mainly visual the movie becomes open to many interpretations, and it’s clear that many subtle symbols have been woven into the movie. Pixar animators have always been obsessed about detail and never make “just” a kids movie, but Wall-E has many layers of meaning and allusions to mythologies from the wide expanse of history. Here are just a few interpretations of Wall-E. Some of them might just be intentional.
Adam & Eve
The robot who drives much of the story of Wall-E is called Eve and she is given a decidedly feminine form in contrast to Wall-E who is masculine. Based on the significance of the name Eve alone it is worth examining the film from a biblical standpoint, and one finds that the plot of the film reverberates strongly with Genesis albeit in a way that most of the symbols are disguised by being reversed.
Wall-E is the last of millions of cleaning robots on Earth, whereas Adam was the first of all men. But being the last or the first is no different when you are the only. Singularity is a trait shared by both Adam and Wall-E.
The Earth proves a poor garden of Eden, devoid of life and full of garbage, in opposition to Genesis’ verdant garden paradise. However, this is another reversed symbol which is turned forwards at the movie’s close as we shall see.
Suddenly Eve appears on the planet Earth scanning for signs of photosynthesis. Alone, her search proves fruitless and she finds no signs of life. Then she meets Wall-E and a relationship begins. The two robots court amusingly and this would amount to nothing more than a trifle until Wall-E gives Eve the small growing vine in the boot. This is perhaps as close to sex as we’re likely to get in a G-rated movie for there is significance in the way that the growing vine is passed from male robot to female robot, and especially how Eve deposits the vine into a kind of uterus chamber within her. Furthering the symbols here, Eve then transforms into an inert egg and incubates the vine until the mothership returns.
The vine also reflects as being fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, though we find another reversal as Wall-E/Adam gave the “fruit” to Eve. But in any case the vine is what triggers the return of the mothership which expels Wall-E and Eve from their garden of Eden and into outer space.
One particular trait of Adam and Eve over the other creatures in the biblical garden is that they have free will, and it is free will that, by accident, they bring to the fat humans on the starship Axiom. Wall-E bumps a woman on a transport, accidentally turning off her computer. She becomes aware of the world in which she lives and is seen exploring the spaceship instead of plugged into her computer from then on. Similarly, the robots give awareness to a man and to the spaceship captain. It is the awareness of the spaceship captain that eventually frees the whole society from their unconscious state.
By the end of the film the humans have returned to Earth which suggests a return to the garden of Eden, but the very last shot of the film shows the little vines growing. The Earth is returning to life.
The tone poem Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Strauss appears at the end of the movie as the captain is fighting with the autopilot robot. (You know this one… it goes baaaaahhh baaaaahhh BAAAAHHHH… BAH DUM). This is both a nod to Kubrick’s 2001 (uniting both films as films about “outer space”) but at the same time it is a nod to the actual Thus Spoke Zarathustra story by Nietzche.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra deals with a transcendant man, Zarathustra or Zoroaster, coming down from a high mountain to teach and free the people of the bondage of morality. The great prophet is the first, a perfect man, who passes his legacy and knowledge to all people. The result is a universal awakening or enlightenment.
In 2001 the song is used to denote transcendence of man. As the lead ape of the tribe learns to use a bone as a weapon, the first use of a tool by prehistoric man, the music swells to stress the importance of the event and later we see the lead ape toss the bone into the sky where, in one of the most celebrated jump-cuts in film history, it turns into a space-based nuclear weapon in orbit around Earth. Kubrick celebrates technology as the great enlightenment of man.
In Wall-E it is the overcoming of technology that forms the great leap. The familiar theme of Thus Spoke Zarathustra swells and climaxes as the waddling captain switches the autopilot from “auto” to “manual”, taking back control from the technology that has enslaved him. He becomes Zarathustra and literally comes down from the ship’s bridge, (which, much like Zarathustra’s mountain is at the highest point in the ship in a tower above everyone else), to lead his people back to the Earth where they begin civilization anew and in, one expects, a more sustainable fashion. The captain’s first act upon Earth is to plant the fledgling vine, an act of creation and sustenance in direct opposition to the consumerist lifestyle his people led.
When viewed like this it is bold that the makers of Wall-E would use Thus Spoke Zarathustra in a method directly opposed to Kubrick’s use, in a frankly anti-technology fashion. But in both movies the piece describes awakening and enlightenment.
Just a little detail. The importance of touch is demonstrated multiple times in the movie. Most obvious is Wall-E’s intense desire to hold Eve’s hand after watching “Hello Dolly” on his TV. The animators spent a lot of time on this particular part of Wall-E and Eve’s relationship. In fact it is touch that reawakens Wall-E after he loses his memory circuits and returns him to awareness. But there are a few other places where the importance of touch is underscored.
The floating fat people are shown in constant communication with each other but never do they touch. They only speak via videoconferencing. The first awakened woman, whose computer gets turned off, soon finds a companion man and mere moments after they meet their hands accidentally touch. The shock of pleasure on their faces is very well animated. After that moment they are inseparable.
Another one… in the middle of the movie a group of babies is shown in pre-school. Floating in tiny chairs they stare at educational media presented by a robot. They do not touch and their vacant expressions are chilling. At the end of the film the babies are rolling down the green, crying as the ship pitches alarmingly. The babies roll towards the awakened couple and as soon as they touch the couple’s outstretched arms their faces turn to sheer delight.
That was as far as I got… but a Mr. SpencerNobleman on the DoseNation blog has advanced two more very interesting theories. His breathless post is here:
The DoseNation post links to buynlarge.com which seems to be a viral marketing site set up by Pixar. However, this site is obviously aimed at adults as it doesn’t make any sense from a kid’s view (the Disney site is full of flashy graphics for the young’ns). As such is seems to be a sneaky place where the writers have dumped clues to other things they put in the movie.
On the site there is an ad for a drug called Xanadou which produces an “euphoric shopping experience”. But Xanadu is also the locale for Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Khubla Khan which begins:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
The poem describes Xanadu as a paradise surrounded by an impassible sea. Later on it is described as “a dome in air”. It sounds very much like the spaceship Axiom where the fat humans live in a world of constant pleasure in the midst of cold, lifeless outer space. Of course, the fat humans are not living a very good life in their paradise, but even Sam Colerige knew that people who live in a pleasure dome would not be very healthy. The poem ends with:
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
My interpretation could be wrong, but it seems to fit.
The End is the Beginning is the End
SpencerNobleman touched on this as well. Another post on the buynlarge site talks about a “4-D movie” titled “Mobius the Loopy” made by “Pix-Vue studios” in Emmeryville, California. This is obviously a reference to Pixar found today in the same town and their pioneering of the 3-D animated film. But there are some creepy quotes in the article. For one, the 4-D movie technology “will cause the start and the end of the movie to occur simultaneously”.
I’ve already mentioned the Adam and Eve themes of this movie, so we’ve got a movie which happens in the far future at the “end” of time, but tells the story of the “beginning” of the world. Another interesting thing is that at the end of the movie while the credits roll we see cave paintings showing the fat humans descending from the sky in their spaceship and reclaiming the world. The cave paintings turn into Egyptian papyrus drawings and then into various art styles from the oldest and moving forward. It’s implied that the humans, descending from the spaceship, restart civilization which builds from a prehistoric society to a modern one. Then what? Presumably they exhaust the Earth once more, go into space, and the story begins again. The end is the beginning is the end… the start and the end are simultaneous.
That’s what I got from the movie. I want to go see it again…