Retronalysis: The Humans of ‘WALL-E’ Were Probably Better Off Without Him

Have you ever seen Pixar’s WALL-E? No? Then go watch that, come back, and let’s discuss something somewhat troubling about this film.

There are a lot of movies that you can point to and say that the protagonists (i.e. heroes of the film) actually do more harm than good. There are some movies with tragic endings that would have been just fine if the protagonist had done nothing at all.

And I think WALL-E accidentally does the same thing, and not for the reason you may be thinking.

wall-e theory

Let’s recap the story. WALL-E is set 800 years in the future. In this universe, Earth becomes incredibly overpopulated by the year 2105, with 200 billion humans contributing to an environmental disaster for obvious reasons.

In response, a world-dominating organization called Buy n Large (BnL) pledges to clean up the mess, though it’s heavily implied it’s mostly their fault, and they send all humans to space on executive cruise ships called “starliners.” But after only five years, BnL decides to abandon the planet completely because the air has become toxic.

Side note: Soon, my book on The Pixar Theory will be coming out, and it’s packed with theories that concern this movie and BnL in general. What you’re about to read is something that didn’t make it into the final draft, so BONUS!

wall-e theory

Anyway, humans remain in space unbothered for 700 years, which is when the movie’s plot begins with WALL-E. When a probe named EVE arrives to find hospitable life, WALL-E falls in adorable robot love with her, and when she returns to deliver the plant-life she found, WALL-E frantically follows her.

WALL-E ends up on Axiom, one of many starliners running in a lifestyle “loop.” The humans there have been raised from birth to support and trust BnL and it’s routines for their entire lives. The robots satisfy all of their needs, and life is pretty much perfect in their minds, even though they do nothing for themselves.

It’s a strange setup because you’d think the people on Axiom would grow bored and feel stifled, but in contrast, they seem completely intent, until WALL-E arrives and causes a chain of events that leads to their return to Earth.

wall-e theory

 

This brings me to the main point: The people of Axiom are incredibly nice, well-functioning people.

Not once do you see a human on Axiom acting spoiled or rude. Instead, they’re incredibly polite, especially when they meet WALL-E for the first time. John and Mary are two great examples. They’re not used to robots having a personality, and when they meet WALL-E, they are very positive and nice to him. You’d think they’d treat him terribly, but instead they befriend him and get eerily excited when they see him again.

The humans we see have friends, romantic relationships, and excellent living accommodations. The screens they view everything through are translucent, so they have no shame in letting other people see what they’re working on.

wall-e theory

Even life expectancy isn’t a problem. When we see the panel of past Axiom captains, you can see that all of them live well over 100 years.

When the current captain of the ship becomes enamored with Earth, he appears to have the joy of a child. He’s incredibly optimistic, and in many ways, one of the central heroes of the film when it comes down to it.

In some of the final scenes, we see the humans showing a lot of empathy for WALL-E and EVE, even though most have them have no idea what’s going on. They cheer for the captain when he’s fighting Auto, and John and Mary don’t hesitate to risk their lives for the babies falling down the platform.

wall-e theory

What caused humans to be this nice?

Well, BnL apparently did. The society created by this “loop” of never-ending pleasure created a culture of interestingly polite humans, contrary to the spoiled rich kid syndrome you’d expect to see.

So was what WALL-E did for them…for the best?

If he had never followed EVE, the humans would sill be on the Axiom, but when the movie closes, the humans have returned to Earth. It’s depressing, but history repeats itself. Though we see shots of life rebuilding itself peacefully, won’t humans just make the same mistakes again and damage Earth completely this time?

wall-e theory

It’s tricky because the movie is clever about how it makes you hate BnL, despite it being the invention of the very humans we sympathize with. Pixar overtly makes the conditions of the Axiom both horrific and enticing at the same time, but few people walk away from it thinking the humans made a mistake.

From a storytelling perspective, it’s genius on Pixar’s part. They present the humans in a way that makes us want the best for them. If they had made the humans spoiled and insufferable, we wouldn’t care about them as much as we do by the end.

But the weird side-effect of this characterization is that Pixar is unintentionally saying that BnL’s methods created a better society than the one we already have. We know it’s better because Pixar is intentionally saying the society we have is what caused the problems emphasized in the film.

wall-e theory

So, here’s the question: Were the humans better off living in a society that made them the best they could be personally and socially? Or is living on Earth too important to ignore? I’m not convinced either way, to be honest.

Sure, the effects of gravity make you a blob dependent on a chair, but then again, it’s an awesome chair.

In Axiom’s society, there’s no crime from what we see. Everyone has their needs met. There’s likely no poverty, racial injustice, or food shortages. It’s utopia, but we think it sucks because the people aren’t skinny. Isn’t that a little messed up when you think about it?

wall-e theory

Still, the captain makes a good point when he says, “I don’t want to survive, I want to live!”

But does everyone on Axiom want that, or is it just the result of one man who wants to impulse buy something he read about on the Internet? It’s hard to say.

Of course, I’m not saying Axiom would be the best for me or you. We’re accustomed to bike rides, trampolines, and Taylor Swift concerts. But if you told me there was a way to solve all of Earth’s problems in exchange for a few extra pounds, I’d have a hard time saying no.

Thanks for reading! If you agree or disagree with the ideas presented in this stream of words, present your own in the comments below. You can subscribe to posts like this by clicking “Follow” in the sidebar, or just hang out with me on Twitter, @JonNegroni

67 thoughts

  1. It is possible that the reason the humans in Wall-E were so polite and happy all the time is there could have been some secret brainwashing going on that we couldn’t see. Maybe it was drugs, maybe it was some kind of cruel behavior modification like electric shocks or something, delivered when the person was very young. After all, there are cases in real life where people are harshly trained to be polite and happy all the time, as evidenced by this article, which was written talking about people who are trained to smile all the time using all sorts of measures, up to and including beating:
    https://homeschoolersanonymous.org/2015/06/11/psa-re-smiling-in-public/
    Also this article, which talks more generally about how people can be reinforced to look happy: http://realsocialskills.org/post/124333076514/appearing-to-enjoy-behavior-modificiation-is-not

    It seems to me that, given the sheer variety of personality types among humans, some of whom are prone to emotional meltdowns and are very hard-pressed to be smiley and happy and polite all the time (it’s exhausting! Believe me!), I suspect that some sort of vicious foul play is causing the humans on Axiom to all be like this. The only reason we don’t see the machines applying overtly degrading methods like food deprivation, drugging, or electric shocks is because WALL-E is written for younger audiences: we wouldn’t want the kids to see that. Not to mention, and an autistic who went to two “good” special ed schools that were nonetheless abusive, I have personally had to deal with teachers who talked to me in the same kind of tone as those machine voices and let me tell you, it is degrading. It makes you feel bad about yourself and you can’t quite figure out why. It is not really the obesity that is the problem for these people, it’s true; rather, it is the constant low-level degradation, not to mention the possibility of brutal training methods being used off-screen. The way Auto behaves certainly attests to that; he is surprisingly brutal considering WALL-E is a kid’s movie.

    Like

  2. “But if you told me there was a way to solve all of Earth’s problems in exchange for a few extra pounds, I’d have a hard time saying no.” – I agree! Use technology to solve our scarcity problem. Let us focus our efforts & resources (if it was limitless, GREAT!) on creative endeavours, happiness and/or goals of a higher purpose in our existence.

    Like

  3. Wall-e was not the villain!if any BNL is the villain, wall-e did nothing to be tagged villain.

    Wall-e is one of my favorite movies of pixar.
    i didn’t finish reading your review
    saying stuff like this….

    Like

  4. I was searching the web for Wall-E’s humans to find a picture of them to ilustrate a Quora answer on if the architectsț jobs will ever be automated.
    Nice points you made here!
    Yes, a peacefull and polite society will be way better than our society even on the cost of a few extra pounds. I will also think that such society will make people more creative and involved in arts, literature, and so on. I think humans will not ever rest.
    Picturing such society, I could put all my money on the fact that some of them will rebel and act outside the society.
    If no rebelion will hapend, I think we are allready talking of a new species, one evolved from humans, but not humans anymore.

    Like

  5. It’s an interesting thought. I’m currently writing an essay on WALL-E for my class, identifying physics and philosophy issues. Some of those are the facts that in the movie, their obesity is blamed on bone loss which itself is blamed on microgravity, yet the ship has always had artificial gravity? The complete population of humans is very unlikely to all switch to those (awesome) chairs and lose bone mass that way. If you’ve ever laid in bed for long periods of time, you’d know that by a certain point you’d be itching to move around and be active – it’s only when you reach a certain weight that that activeness causes more exhaustion than elation as the body has to carry around more pounds than it is built for. So these humans should never had experienced bone loss – at least, not in the way the movie explains it. (And it certainly can’t be fixed with a “few laps around the jogging track” … if it can be fixed at all.) So, if this happened in real life, chances are that we wouldn’t become so … compliant, I suppose.

    And another issue is the intrinsic value of the environment. We polluted Earth. Is it right to leave it behind without REALLY cleaning up our mess? (Sure, we have WALL-Es, but all they really do is make the garbage look neater and stacked in cubes. They don’t rid the Earth of the garbage, thus solving pretty much nothing.) Additionally, the humans seemed to not have learned their lesson well. They were forced off of Earth due to polluting their home with copious amounts of garbage and, upon arrival in space, what do they do with all the garbage they produce? Why, stack it in the airlock and eject it! Who cares if space gets polluted, right? As the movie said, there’s lots of space in space!

    That shows a fundamental lack of understanding what got them into that situation in the first place. Given all of their technology too, I really would have expected a recycler and/or trash disintegrator of some sort. We know this doesn’t exist because EVE and WALL-E are not examined at all for any potential recyclable parts or anything like that when they fall down the trash chute. Really, 700 years and there weren’t any engineers or geniuses onboard to come up with something to minimize waste produced?

    The people of Axiom are nice and polite, ’tis true. They also seem more ethical than their ancestors, showing more obligation to the mess and planet they’re not even directly (or indirectly) responsible for anymore.

    Additionally…one could still say that WALL-E is a hero, depending on their perspective. For Earth, WALL-E is a hero, continuing for centuries in cleaning up (to the best of his abilities) and protecting any living creatures (the cockroach, the plant) that manage to survive on Earth, as well as literally delivering the people who can actually repair the damage done to the planet. That’s pretty good. And given how eager the people seemed to leave behind their opulent lifestyle and get dirty on Earth, maybe they weren’t actually all that happy or content with the way things were. Maybe it was more of a “make the best out of it” situation, given how the average person really couldn’t do anything about the way things were. It’s not exactly like they could just hop onto the next ship to Earth.

    Like

  6. Provocative and interesting article. God could easily have created our universe even more appealing than a starliner, where pain, suffering and evil were unimagined impossibilities; but He didn’t. Gee– come to think of it, the Immortal Creator of the universe, of humanity, of Pixar itself and this film by His human his agents fails to receive so much as a passing nod. Immortality and transcendent meaning exist beyond the event horizon of this film’s anemic grasp of reality. All the Starliner captains die, however. So, which is more disgusting? Fat people in their recliner chairs who can’t move a physical muscle or a millennial generation with no capacity for dark dreams about the awesome reality of death and the transcendent significance it lends to all existence? Perhaps we should put down our VR goggles and Slurppees long enough look up at the night time sky with wonder….

    Like

What do you think? Comment here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s