My Japanese New Wave festival has ended. I ended up deciding not to watch In the Realm of the Senses; despite a slight curiosity to see what all the hoopla's about, I was worn thin from having seen too many Japanese films. In the end, I am glad I watched all these different films successively, getting some insight into some new Japanese directors and auteurs. I even found a director, Teshigahara, who I feel like I have some special resonance with. I went so far as to buy and read the novel Woman in the Dunes (which was also especially fantastic), and a box-set collection of his films (a new treasure). Though, I did see some other films I did not write about - The Pornographers and Double Suicide, both good in their own way - I will dispense from reviewing them to save the few readers of this blog from boredom. Anyway, what I really want to talk about it Pixar's newest gem, WALL-E.
My expectations for this film were already quite high, having read some positive reviews and maintaining a nearly infallible trust in a certain level of quality that the Pixar/Disney film have seemed able to keep up. Even so, the film took me surprise not only by how much I enjoyed it, but by deep and complex were its ideas and themes.
As many probably know by now, the film centers around a little trash compactor robot named WALL-E (an acronym of some sort) who outlasted all of the other mass-produced replicas on Earth, probably from having a heart and personality, and lives alone with a cockroach, going about his endless Sisyphusean task of cleaning up the mess humans left behind. The humans are all on a giant space craft, originally a temporary plan until Earth could be cleaned up, and stay there for 700 years. They devolved into lazy, fat creatures not unlike giant babys, slurping meals from straws and with a tiny screen constantly in front of their face. Eventually WALL-E finds a plant growing in an old refrigerator, which sets off a large chain of events and introduces some new characters, including WALL-E's love interest EVE and a good-hearted manbaby ship captain.
What really makes WALL-E work is the earnestness and purity of WALL-E's character as well as his simplicity. Numerous comparisons have already been made with Chaplin and WALL-E, but it is worth noting the similarities in the way they get at our hearts. The sentimentalism, though even predictable at times, is always so sincere that we can't help but be moved. The way, for instance, WALL-E understands EVE's need to secure the plant he finds and struggles to help her do so at the expense of himself echoes the way in which the Little Tramp tries to raise money for the sake of the operation for the blind girl he loves in City Lights. The comparison also works because a large portion of WALL-E is "silent," that is, it doesn't have any voices in it for almost the first third of the movie. This first segment is a beautiful examination of the loneliness and solidarity with which WALL-E lives on Earth. Despite his absurd condition, WALL-E finds meaning and purpose through little knick knacks he finds and through his Hello, Dolly! tape (and NOT simply because he is programmed to do so, as we find out, WALL-E is not an ordinary robot); WALL-E is the absurd hero! This segment also contains WALL-E's courtship of the cool EVE, which is both sweet and hilarious and reminds me of any number of the Little Tramp's attempts at love with women out of his league.
Though seemingly simplistic, the film deals with some very pertinent issues of corporate conglomerates (everything is owned by a corporation called Big-N-Large, whose CEO seems to also be the president), resource wasting, dependency on technology and laziness, an irresponsible president, and our responsibility to take care of our planet. These issues are not delivered in a scolding manner, but are mixed with warm humor and irony. Though at first I thought it was so bold for them to make all humans fat, baby-like and lazy, they later show that these same humans are in essence good-hearted and mean well.
In total, WALL-E is a terrific movie and one whose purity of heart and beauty of image, not to mention timelessness of characterization, offer a breath of fresh air in a summer filled with high-budget trash and mindlessness (yes, Wanted, I'm talking about you).