Monday, January 12, 2009
I was not prepared for sheer delight of Pixar’s latest entry, now on DVD. I knew it would be charming and whiz-bang eye-popping on the special effects. Computer generated animation has come of age. The only limits are those that exist somewhere in the collective imagination of the creative team.
But I was not ready for the Huxleyan level social critique and underlying biblical themes. I remembering hearing someone discount the film as Al Gore by Pixar – one more cinematic vision of doomsday apocalypse by self-destruct ignorance – a tired rehash of the evils of global warming and all that. But this movie is way more.
His name is an acronym: Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth Class. The time frame: seven hundred years from now. Computers are intelligent. WALL-E is the last of the solar powered robots programmed to clean up the trash generated by capitalist consumerism gone amuck. The human race appears to be extinct. If humans survived the ruinous collapse of sustainable life – photosynthesis – they are no-where to be found in the opening scenes.
WALL-E takes us for a tour. He doesn’t seem to know he is alone, or troubled by isolation. His only sidekick, a lively, indestructible cockroach (Jiminy Cricket?) named Hazy, follows his every move like a pet Labrador retriever. Mainly, WALL-E puts in a solid workday. He’s a mobile trash compactor, collecting garbage and reducing the junk to manageable cubes that look like building blocks. From the looks of things, he’s been at it for several hundred years. On the side, he collects the objects he scavenges during the day and stores them in his makeshift home. If an object he finds makes him curious – he takes it with him. To name a few: a string of Christmas lights; a Zippo lighter; a Rubic’s Cube. These artifacts of a bygone era connect our world to his.
It’s not until an alien space ship makes a noisy, disruptive landing that WALL-E’s mundane world is shaken up. The ship delivers an egg-shaped probe then returns to the heavens with the roar of the space shuttle booster. WALL-E watches from the shadows, curious, fearful. Before long, the two creatures find each other and become friends. WALL-E and Eve.
Their language is all nuance. Their eyes. Their chirps. Sighs. Gasps. It’s a charming interplay that leads to friendship – and pure romance. But that’s not the story. The focal point, the hinge pin of the storyline is contained in an old, discarded leather boot. Its color is a brilliant contrast to the dusty, rusty, hazy backdrop of the film. It’s a bright glowing green shoot – a plant with three leaves that emerges from the soil in the boot as an irrepressible life form. Eve is stunned. She captures the specimen as she is programmed to do, and soon afterwards, the rocket that delivered her to WALL-E’s yard returns to pick her up. WALL-E can’t bear the thought of her departure, so he manages to hitch a ride on the rocket to follow her back from whence she came.
Their arrival introduces us to a world that elicits an “a-hah.” It’s a massive space station; home to thousands of fortunate refugee humans who several hundred years prior escaped uninhabitable earth for life in a completely controlled environment until such time as planet earth might once again sustain life. These humans are pampered. Advanced technology provides each with individualized care. Their life is entirely virtual. They recline in deeply padded, high-tech, hovering Lazy-Boys, equipped with individual wide screens that deliver a steady stream of images on demand. Central Authority carefully controls messages and communication.
After several generations of life in a space station that resembles a Disney World Resort, each has sacrificed any hint of individual identity for the satisfying pleasures of a virtual world. They are all horrifically obese. Big brother has them right where he wants them. They are not free. They are captives to their appetite for comfort.
And the most threatening invasion to this idyllic sterile world just arrived in the ship’s receiving dock: a green shoot – growing out of an old, worn, tattered boot.
* * * * * * *
It’s Monday morning. The news hasn’t improved much. Transition is in the air. The stress levels climb. The uncertainty closes in. We are tempted to give in and conform to the flow.
Isaiah saw it coming. The powerful Assyrians and then the Babylonians threaten to destroy everything Israel built. He knew Jerusalem was next, and the wonders of the city would be reduced to rubble and ash. But the prophet also new that the mighty armies of the enemy would not have the final word. Out of the ground would appear a little green shoot – and it would signal that life had not been extinguished. God would provide, and prevail.
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.
And for those who will see and hear, even this era of broken dreams, devastating loss, fear of the unknown, a little green shoot appears.
To set us free.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2009
Note: Isaiah 11 and 53