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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Is It Human Nature To Prefer the Non-Human?
I finally took Skylar to see Wall-E last night. She loved it. And I was just as delighted to see it a third time as I was the first two. I realized, though, as the scene where Eve watches the footage from her own security camera, shot when she was in a mission-induced coma, and realizes how devoted Wall-E was to her non-responsive form, that the film is even more profound than I had thought. It isn't just a story of how human beings end up more programmed than robots, though that is its most obvious point. No, the film is also meditation on the nature of identification itself, the fact that we frequently find it easier to get in touch with our most fundamental feelings, such as love and hate, when we focus on non-humans. Wall-E has now brought tears to my eye more than any film I've seen, despite the fact that the human beings it showcases elicit a mixture of incredulity, pity and disgust. I recognize that the filmmakers were inspired by human models, specifically Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton pictures. But both of those actors were famous for crafting characters whose humanity shone forth precisely because they didn't act like ordinary humans. In a sense, a figure like The Tramp is already well on the way to being a robot. Nor is it any accident that Chaplin and Keaton's heyday overlapped with the period that gave us the term "robot" itself. I'm sure that the folks at Pixar, careful planners that they are, were well aware of that fact. And I also suspect that they were eager to explore the Moebius-strip like terrain of a film about fetishizing the inanimate that would have to be marketed in a way that crassly fetishizes the inaminate. If Wall-E makes us tear up, it may be at least partially because we are so invested in the means of concealing all the ways in which we are torn apart by the commodification of ourselves.

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jcoldrey From: jcoldrey Date: September 20th, 2008 10:54 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Interesting post. Investing non-human beings with human characteristics isn't a new literary/cinematic approach, particularly with animation, but I agree that Wall-E pushes the technique (and its associated meaning) to the forefront.

Aside from providing a provocative vision of where our society is heading, I find the human characters basically unnecessary to the movie, at least in terms of its key emotional content. What's interesting about Wall-E is that, unlike a lot of other animated films where the characters are essentially human but happen to be cars/insects/toys/fish/etc, the robots here are primarily robots, with some key human attributes. That's why, for me at least, this film achieves a purity of emotion that surpasses the other Pixar films. It's stripped right down to the essentials, to wordless action and reaction. As you say, this enables us to focus on the fundamentals.

There are some ironies associated with this approach, as you note, but I like that the film doesn't allow these to become its point. If I weren't so lazy, I would write a note in my own journal about Andrew Stanton's Pixar movies and how I think they stand apart from all the others on the basis of a particularly adult (as opposed to youthfully petulant, like Brad Bird's) set of themes with which they engage.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 21st, 2008 04:27 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It's great to hear from you!

I agree about Andrew Stanton's Pixar films. A number of reviews in the States were written from a Brad-Bird-is-better perspective, which baffled me.

And I also agree that what sets Wall-E apart, aside from the astonishing level of detail in the scenes on Earth, is that the robots are not wholly anthropomorphized. Much of what they do might seem to be an example of human behavior, but it can be argued in many cases that our perception of the "human" there reveals an inability to recognize how other creatures, natural or artificially constructed, might develop individual traits over time. That's a long-running theme in sci-fi, of course, but Wall-E engages it ably and with a minimum of simplification, unlike other animated features aimed at children as well as adults.

It was interesting to watch it with my daughter, who has now entered a phase in her move-watching where she is hostile to animation much of the time and now prefers live action. She was skeptical at first, but gradually came to realize that the picture wasn't doing what so many other animated features of the past decade-plus have done. Or, as she put it in her almost-ten-year-old lingo, "It was way less postmodern than I thought it would be."
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