Synopsis: A lonely robot seeks friendship. (Pixar, 2008, streaming on Disney+)
How much loneliness can one person take? In Cast Away, Tom Hanks’ marooned character survives alone on an island for years with no one. His only companion is a volleyball he names Wilson. I would’ve tried for befriending a bird, but his shocked brain glommed onto a piece of sports equipment.
In the pandemic year 2020 C.E. millions of people grappled with fear of a virus and the isolation of quarantine. Zoom and cell phone calls with friends and family kept us afloat in the absence of real contact. No reports of anyone resorting to volleyballs or hula hoops for company.
How much loneliness can one robot take? WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth class) toils alone on Earth, picking up garbage. People consumed the planet into an ecological shutdown and there are no plants or animals left. The humans took to space in big cruise ships, drifting along until the Earth gets cleaned up.
The little bot is about the size of an orange crate. He moves around on snowcat-like treads and has goggle-ish eyes. He’s super cute. And so industrious! WALL-E obviously did not belong to a union because it seems that he works everyday. He rolls along in a deserted city, collecting garbage, compacting it and stacking it into towers.
The sun shines down and solar-powered WALL-E soaks up its rays while he works. He has one companion, a roach. Yuck. Thankfully the filmmakers do not give the icky bug a voice or too much screen time.
At the end of each day WALL-E does what all the people and animals would do: he heads home. He has tricked out the back of a truck with all sorts of treasures that he has found and categorized into bins. He has strung up lights and made a cozy place for himself. He keeps a prized video in a toaster, pops it out and settles into watching the recording. Listen, I prefer Netflix, but the little guy is making do.
Guileless WALL-E is so unsophisticated that he has fallen for the 1960’s musical Hello, Dolly. Instead of rolling his robo eyes at the mawkishness, he is beguiled by the spectacle and even tries to dance along to the choreography. He is particularly attracted to a scene where a couple hold hands, gaze into each other’s eyes and sing a sappy tune about love. But listen up… “It only takes a moment, for your eyes to meet, and then…your heart knows in a moment you will never be alone again.”
And WALL-E’s eyes fill with longing for something he’s never known. *Me SOBBING* And you take a moment to digest that while the Earth’s cleanup plan was supposed to be complete in five years, seven hundred years have passed. So at what point did the other WALL-E’s stop working? How long has he been alone? We know that our WALL-E has resourcefully found replacement parts and fixed himself over the years, but no other robots are working now. If WALL-E wasn’t so wed to his cleanup programming, he could’ve doctored some fellow robots and they could all watch musicals together. Alas, fate intervenes in the form of EVE…
EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) is deposited on Earth by a fearsome rocket that scares the bejesus out of WALL-E. EVE is designed like an egg with eyes that appear on a dark screen. She can fly! All & all, she’s very glamourous. WALL-E is instantly intrigued and does his best to follow her around. She scans lots of stuff and uses a ray from her flipper-like “arms” to blast at things she thinks might be dangerous. When she gets frustrated, she kabooms derelict ships.
Our techie little friend works up the courage to approach EVE, who has a commanding presence. They introduce themselves. He adorably pronounces his name as Waahh-lee and hers as Ee-vuh. He gallantly helps her to his home during a sandstorm where he then shows off his treasures. His big move to impress her is to do a few steps from the musical he loves. He tries to hold her hand, but she pulls away like a cat who has lost their patience. Eve may not be impressed, but she is curious. It turns out that EVE has been “raised” among many different robots and her assignment is to find plant life on Earth. WALL-E wants to help her, not understanding that she will leave if she does find any plant samples.
It looked to me like WALL-E and EVE were better off on Earth than on the space cruise ship where Eve’s rocket was launched from. The people who populate the cruise consume like crazy, just like their ancestors on Earth did. (Doesn’t Elon Musk understand that if humans colonize Mars they will just ruin that planet too?) I don’t know how many cruise ships of people are floating around, but this one looks troublingly like they didn’t accept any Asian passengers. The captain did look like a lot of cruise ship captains— male and chubby.
The passengers are incurious, obese humans who spend their days basking in floating lounge chairs, swigging slurpee-esque drinks and staring at their screens’ adverts. The robots do all the work. Thankfully, the robots are not abused or harassed, but they do work a lot.
WALL-E and EVE spend much of the movie on the ship where hijinks and mild peril ensue. EVE quickly becomes special to WALL-E who has been so lonely. Before long, EVE’s personality emerges and she’s a winner. Thank heavens, because WALL-E deserves nothing less than a stellar friend.
Pixar throws a wrench in the works that threatens the couple while offering a chance for redemption to the dull people who have become detached from nature and have pretty much lost their ambulatoriness.
So how much loneliness can a human or robot take? I’ll tell you, but it’s something you already know from life and something you can see in WALL-E’s eyes: Not a moment more.
Thanks WALL-E for the mental health message that loneliness can break your heart, but it can be mended with loving companionship. And also, we need to give some loving care to the flora on our planet. K, I’m gonna go water my plant.
P.S. WALL-E won the Oscar for Best Animated Film, 2008 (director, Andrew Stanton.)