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August 2, 2008

A 2001 Take on WALL-E

Filed under: thoughts — Tags: , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 12:33 am


I finally saw WALL-E tonight, and despite it being the highest-rated film of 2008 so far, it could have definitely benefited from a little tragedy. For the two or three people on Earth who haven’t seen the film yet, spoilers ahead:

First off, the plot is really thin, and the payoff is too family-friendly. In other words, yes WALL-E saves the day, and no, he doesn’t sacrifice himself for the good of humanity; and yes, he gets the “girl”, er, robot. In the future, Earth is so filled with garbage that humanity leaves Earth on what are essentially giant cruise ships in space, while WALL-E and the rest of the garbage-bots clean the planet. Fast forward some seven-hundred years: humanity remained on their ship all this time and forgot about returning to Earth because it was deemed uninhabitable.

This is the part of the plot that I’m totally OK with. The first act of the movie was fantastic: the sad way WALL-E went about his programming day in and day out forever, and without purpose set the bar pretty high. Then, he meets his “love interest” EVE and they save the day. The end. Lame.

Enter the 2001-esque version…

One of the reasons 2001: A Space Odyssey endures as a classic is its difficult, vague, open-ended plot. Kubrick never quite explained what happened, and left it up to the audience, but in a nut-shell, it did have something to do with death and rebirth. After all, you can never go wrong with allegorical tales representing death and rebirth, right?

So, in my attempt to turn WALL-E into a brilliant sci-fi epic, WALL-E and EVE get to humanity’s cruise ship, but what they find is scores of robots “living” out the same lives WALL-E has back on Earth: silently following their pre-programmed routines day in and day out forever. In my take, as the ship was meant to be away for only 5 years, humanity died out centuries ago. Yes, humanity is extinct, its only memory encoded into the data banks of the ship’s computer.

And so ends the second act. WALL-E has brought along a single living plant which he found back on Earth, proving that life can continue there. WALL-E, EVE, and the rogue robot cast they meet during their adventure through the ship, face off against the ship’s computer, Auto, which has been programmed never to return to Earth under any circumstance. Because it is programmed, it’s not really evil, but it serves as the film’s de-facto villain. Let’s just cast Auto as WALL-E‘s HAL-9000.

With the ship’s computer dispatched, the robots take control of the ship and set it on a course to Earth. WALL-E is damaged from the fight with the ship’s computer and in bad shape. As soon as the ship gets to Earth, EVE rushes to get WALL-E repaired, but the damage is presumably too extensive, and WALL-E powers down. The robots are able to use a fail-safe mechanism built into the ship that begins terraforming the planet—and he ship is destroyed in the process, and with it, any memory of humanity’s existence.

Thus, the crew of robots are left on Earth, and as centuries pass, life begins anew, with the robots as the stewards of the new Earth. In an ending the film hinted at, but didn’t go through with, EVE finally finds the parts to repair WALL-E, but with his memory erased, WALL-E becomes the mindless automaton he was originally, and continues his pre-programmed tasks. The film ends as it began, except instead of WALL-E roaming towers of refuse, we now see a beautiful prehistoric world.

There we have it: the extinction of humanity, a hero’s self-sacrifice, and the rebirth of life. No easy answers, and a bittersweet ending. That’s all WALL-E needed to go beyond movie of the year, to become an absolute classic.

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