Monday, April 20, 2015

Kids movies

As always happens with our youngsters, we introduce them to kids movies at appropriate ages. Our son is nearly two, and he's been introduced to the Disney/Pixar movie, WALL-E. Have you seen it?

It's like a silent movie for the most part - communication being through gesture, music and exaggerated movements. Our son loves movies with exaggerated movements, like Monsters Inc and all three of the Toy Story movies. But we're talking about WALL-E, aren't we?

You'll have to forgive me if you haven't seen it, or have forgotten the storyline if you have. Because its in the details of the story, which I have rediscovered a subtle message. My son see's an animated, warm character who likes to make friends with nearly everyone he meets. I see the only survivor of his mechanical kind, after 700 years cleaning up the mess of humans.

How is it he survives, when the rest of the WALL-E units are broken down and strewn around the city like the empty shells they are? Well, he's a scavenger! He stopped looking only at his "directive", which was disposing of the rubbish the humans left behind, and he started to make something more of it. If he hadn't decided to be more creative with his directive, and found purpose in other people's rubbish, he wouldn't have been able to collect all the parts he needed to stay functional. None of his mechanical kind made that correlation by only following their primary directive.

Right in the beginning of the movie though, WALL-E busts his tracks (wheels) which gets him around the place. He stops briefly to an obsolete version of himself, sitting in a pile of junk. This units tracks aren't broken, and the next minute we see WALL-E driving down the road on smooth tracks again - presuming he swapped them with the other unit. This was equivalent to stealing a dead man's shoes. They obviously weren't going to need them any more. Morose perhaps, but entirely practical.

While it looks like WALL-E is merely cleaning up the mess left behind by humans, he's actually scavenging a future for himself. He also teaches other robots he later comes in contact with in space, how to think outside their "directive" too. The only one he wasn't able to influence was "Autopilot", which was the machine responsible for controlling the ship the human passengers were on.

What was Autopilot's directive? Not to let the human's return to earth. It was his mission, given to him from the CEO of "Buy n Large", responsible for the clean up on Earth, that it would be easier to "stay the course" and never return. Only the CEO didn't bother to tell the Captain or the rest of the humans on board for nearly 700 years. He programed the Autopilot to assume control, of not doing anything to rectify the situation created by humans. To save the humans, they had to be kept ignorant of the situation.

So for 700 years WALL-E was adapting to his environment and surviving on Earth, and in the same amount of time, Autopilot was keeping the influence of its capitalist creators alive - making the humans less capable of taking care of themselves. When the humans finally realised what was going on, thanks to the influence of WALL-E, the only way to stop the Autopilot from controlling the destination of the ship, was to switch it off.

When I first saw WALL-E, with Peter's older sister, back in the early 'norties, I thought it was a very sweet movie about falling in love, devotion and ultimately not turning our backs on the Earth. If you look a little deeper though, everyone of us could be stuck on autopilot, following the directive of our capitalist organisers of survival.

Its not that we consciously turn our backs on the earth or our responsibilities to it, we're just taught from a very young age, to follow a different directive. If the corporations say its what's best for everyone, then it must be true! I used to see Autopilot as a silly machine that didn't realise the directive could be subject to change - but then I realised the CEO of Buy 'n Large, wanted the autopilot to be in control. That's what he programed it to do. Take over, assume control and stay the course Buy 'n Large orchestrated from the start.

They never make mention of money on WALL-E. We see a lot of exchanges of product - food, services and transportation on the star ship - but no reference to Buy 'n Large shareholders in the present. Are we to assume they continued the services of the ship for 700 years, with no exchange of monetary worth? Their name-brand is plastered all over the ship and no-one is getting paid for it?

I suspect if money and shareholders had been mentioned as the cause though, instead of limited machine processes misinterpreting the data, then WALL-E never would have been released. Part of its appeal was its innocence. It could send a deeper message in an indirect way. My son probably still just loves it because he loves facial expressions and gestures of communication, without words.

WALL-E's message is much deeper though. If we don't find ways to evolve our directive, then we become subject to someone's else's interpretation of it. Are we stuck on Autopilot, because we're afraid to take the wheel ourselves?

I know this discussion about a kid's movie, seems somewhat removed from our property endeavours, but I think it personifies it well. I don't want to follow a blind directive of survival, I want to be responsible for creating our own directive - changing and adapting as circumstances require it. WALL-E didn't suddenly open my eyes, but its the first time I've recognised its story line, as a story about the ordeal of change.

One often has to stray from the path one knows. We have to consciously switch off the Autopilot and face the mistakes of our past.


  1. Beautifully written Chris. I have seen it and loved it at the time but I would have to see it again to have a viable discussion. I am wondering if it came out around the same time as Avatar did as that too was about certain issues. I recall that it angered some who didn't want to know. I beleive that film has an obligation as does the general media, to delve into uncomfortable situation. I think film has the advantage of doing so more effectively as it can be in the undertones of the script or the cinematography. Movies have done so throughout the years. I have taken a film history course that made me fall madly in love with movies so I can be quite a nerd on the topic. I think I'll search for Wall-e on Netflix to see it again.

  2. Wow, film history, that would have been an interesting course to take. If I tell David, I'm sure he'd be jealous, lol. He loves that sort of stuff too.

    WALL-E came out in 2008 and Avatar in 2009, so not that far apart. I agree, both movies explore the concept of what happens to life when corporations decide what's the best course to take. Only Avatar explores the concept of a brutal reality a little more - which is what we'd expect from an adult movie.

    What I love about WALL-E though, is that its so subtle in communicating its deeper message. I love the opening song, with a spritely melody and lyrics about the enthusiasm of being outside. Then the camera gradually pans into a deserted scene of a city-scape with towers of rubbish, dwarfing the highest skyscrapers. Not a sign of organic life amongst it all. It's brilliant at easing a person into the destruction without making them feel too uncomfortable, which is suitable for a children's movie.

    It touches on the reality, without being inappropriate for children to watch. Which is what I appreciate as a parent.

  3. It was such a fun class-show up and sit through a short lecture then watch a film. Who could complain? lol.
    It seems like just yesterday that I sat with my own kids to watch both of these. They were older than Peter at the time-closer to Sarahs age I think.
    I promise to watch Wall-e soon! I don't remember it enough to even remember the song or the skyscrapers! I recall being a little be afraid of the message it was conveying-or rather-sad. But that could be memory tricking me.


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