Wall E Film Analysis

Wall E Film Analysis At first glance, the story of WALL-E, set in a future post-apocalyptic world and featuring a lonely robot in search of love, might give the impression of being a kid-friendly Black Mirror episode. Like the dystopian Netflix show, WALL-E puts a central emphasis on humanity’s heuristic excesses and related dangers of a rapidly advancing technology – automation.

But while Black Mirror’s meaning frequently ends there, leaving the audience with a nihilistic view of reality and a message that often portrays technology in a negative light, WALL-E plays out a more symbolically comprehensive meaningful story about the gradual loss of connection with life as a result of technological innovations. In doing so, it playfully showcases both the danger of automation – loss of jobs, dangerous levels of consumerism, destruction of our planet – as well as its potential to create positive change by reminding us who we are as human beings and working together in the renewal of our planet.

The opening shot of WALL-E shows us the image of a sick and exhausted world, suffocated by excess garbage. We learn that in the distant future humanity has abandoned earth after an apocalyptic flood, not of water, but rather of manmade things. In this world, material goods have swallowed up civilization as towers of trash dominate the skyline. In a sense, the state of things before the exodus reveals how global automation caused humanity to become possessed by materialism and an extreme commodification of life, resulting in a superficial collectivized world ruled by a totalizing system of control.

According to a 2015 study conducted by Boston University and Columbia University, we need to be careful about how we handle the economic gains resulting from improved automation. Researchers found that “absent appropriate fiscal policy that redistributes from winners to losers, smart-machines can mean long-term misery for all” (1). We see this nightmare scenario play out in WALL-E where a lack of fiscal policy that redistributes from winners to losers results in an economy and ultimately a government completely dominated by the monopolistic “Buy n Large” (BnL) corporation.

BnL’s promotion of automation and rampant consumerism destroys the Earth. The people who survive the devastation are only those who can afford tickets aboard the luxury cruise liners such as the axiom. Today, we see our world heading in a similar direction as the one described in WALL-E. As factories employ a greater number of smart machines to satisfy our demand for materialistic goods, we witness an exponential increase in greenhouse gas emissions and toxic bi-products destroying our planet. Moreover, the fact that large companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft have a monopoly over the tech industry and might secretly be pulling all our strings to do as they want is a terrifying similarity to WALL-E.

Later on, in the film, we see WALL-E follow Eve back to the Axiom (spaceship where the humans now live). The axiom is a place of complete purity, order, and control. Everything in this society is accounted for by an automated system. Movement happens on set paths. Everyone consumes the same products. And even the passage of time and the changing of the climate, controlled by the ship’s captain. The irony of the situation becomes quite clear as humanity’s pretensions to God have the opposite effect. Because even though technology can make us stronger and help us reach unimaginable heights. An excess of technological governance can also make us weaker and disconnect us from our center. 

This automated world of complete convenience and leisure has reverted humanity to a state of infancy. This is seen when humans on the axiom float around on permanent seats. Instead of walking normally. This has caused their bodies to slowly evolve into giant blobs of mass, lacking almost any unique characteristics as their internal integrity is quite literally dissolving before their eyes.

How will robots affect humans in the future?

Moreover, instead of paying attention to the world around them. They are completely distracted by their screens. Trapped in a seemingly never-ending cycle of convenience, entertainment, and other superficial short-term satisfactions. Similarly, the automated consumerist world they inhabit gives them the illusion of freedom and individuality, but in reality, promotes conformity to an all-controlling society. The people on the axiom believe they’re living like the Gods. But in reality, they’ve been swallowed up and controlled by their technology.

In his paper (Speculations on Future Relations Between Humans and Automation), MIT engineer and psychologist, Thomas B. Sheridan (2) discusses a few possible futures with regards to our relationship with automation depending on which qualities humans decide to emphasize as we develop automated technologies. In one of his futures, humans design automated systems to maximize efficiency over any other consideration. In other words. Machines are built and designed primarily. To make life easier and limit the expenditure of energy. Sheridan’s description bears a striking resemblance to life aboard the axiom. On the spaceship, humans have seated control of their daily lives to robots built by the Buy n Large corporation.

These machines have the design to make the passenger’s time aboard the ship as stress-free as possible. As a result, people have no real decision-making power.
This fact is made most obvious in Captain McCrea.
A figure who is nominally in control of the axiom but who in reality has no understanding of how any of the technology works. In the middle of the film, Captain McCrea’s efforts to direct his own life and command the ship are thwarted by Auto, the Artificially Intelligent auto-pilot of the axiom, whose sole function is to keep the ship’s inhabitants as safe and comfortable as possible, even at the cost at violating their free will. This reinforces the idea of how relying completely on automated technologies has detrimental impacts on the passengers’ lives.

The film WALL-E also sees no good coming out of the continuous involvement of technology in our relationships. On the axiom. Humans only truly connect with each other and their environments. When the monitors in front of their faces turn off. John and Mary (two strangers aboard the axiom), for instance, meet not because some new gadget has enabled them to spend more time together but because WALL-E accidentally disabled their monitors.

Worse, in this future, technology has gone beyond disrupting relationships and has actively started replacing them. Robots have taken over the teacher-student relationship and possibly the parent-child relationship as well since we never see any characters interacting with children until the film’s final moments. This highlights how automation has eliminated in-person human interaction within the axiom, which is essential for the social growth of individuals, resulting in a society filled with superficial relationships between people.

How will robots affect humans in the future?

When we compare WALL-E to reality. It’s frightening those robots and artificial intelligence. Already employed by several industries. Automation causes mass disruption to working lives according to WALL-E. But how justified is this wave of automation anxiety sweeping across the world? Are hundreds of millions of workers really heading towards a jobless future? Well, the answer’s complicated. Yes, we’ll lose several jobs to automation in the coming future. But a lot of jobs will also be created as a result of automated technologies. Looking back at when automobiles were first introduced. Thousands of railroad engineers lost their jobs. But that just paved the path for thousands of more car mechanics and automobile engineers; tractors didn’t make farming obsolete, and video didn’t kill the radio – they just provided new opportunities.

In a warehouse in southern England, the dystopian vision of a fully automated future appears to have arrived. Ocado (3), one of the world’s most technologically advanced retailers. Is implementing a swarm of robots to pack groceries before delivery. These robots are essentially being orchestrated by a sophisticated machine learning algorithm. To collaborate with each other and package products as efficiently as possible. However, robots here aren’t working to replace humans, they’re working with them.

The robots take containers of products to pick stations where humans put the orders together. Employees claim that the robots are extremely proficient and prevent the job from becoming physically challenging. What’s interesting is that these robots have supposedly created more jobs at Ocado than existed before. Paul Clarke, CTO at Ocado, states that as they’ve found new ways to automate processes. The number of people working for Ocado has only ever increased because of the ongoing growth of the business. 

Understandably, it’s much easier for us to see the jobs being replaced by machines. As compared to the jobs that come from what happens next, but newer technologies have always created newer jobs. For instance, there are direct jobs that create and maintain the technology. And sometimes entire industries develop on the technology itself. However, we sometimes miss the indirect jobs that these technologies produce when companies expand to newer cities or countries. So essentially, although automation may displace some workers. However, it won’t affect the total number of jobs in the economy because of these offsetting effects.

Moreover, a growing body of research suggests artificial intelligence and machines could create as many jobs as they displace. A report from the World Economic Forum (4) estimates that:
While we lose 75 million jobs lost globally by 2022. There could be 133 million new ones.
The world might be on a journey to better integrate automation, but it’s about teaching people to be more adaptable in terms of their jobs and their skill sets because the future is about the collaboration between humans and these technologies.

Overall, the film WALL-E is wise enough to know that we cannot go back to a pre-technology state. So in the end it says the best thing is to put technology in its proper place. Which we can only do when our intentions align with making a change for the better. However, we must question the prime directive which is how the way we’re living might be destroying our body and soul, and choose to resist. WALL-E contends that real life’s a struggle and that we live most meaningfully not by avoiding this pain and struggle but by engaging it creatively and sharing that struggle with our community. It argues that rampant consumerism and automation are causing us to destroy our planet and weaken our bodies – nobody is doing this to us, we’re doing it to ourselves.

In essence, WALL-E isn’t just another dystopian story with little more to offer than a simplistic and nihilistic view of reality, rather it’s a story that offers a more comprehensive contemplation of our modern age, of the great potential and danger of automated technologies and our place and purpose in the world as human beings. 

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