Sometimes we just need two robots to show us what humans can really be.
Today I was thinking about the Pixar’s animated movie “Wall-E” (IMDB, Wikipedia): to me, it’s one of the best movies of the decade. I saw it several times, and each time I deeply enjoy it. It makes me laugh and it makes me cry over and over.
What makes this even more amazing is that the movie’s main characters are two small robots, and in the first half there’s practically no dialogue: just sounds.
This time, though, I noticed another layer in it: the two robots are “gendered”, but they overturn most of usual gender stereotypes.
- Wall-E is a waste collector: its box shape, rough features and low-pitched sounds make it obviously “male”.
- Eve (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) is egg-shaped, sleek, glossy and “sexy” (she has definitely an Apple-ish look): she’s unmistakably “female” – not to mention her name.
If you’re beginning to think Wall-E will be the hero and he will save Eve… think again. No, this isn’t your standard “manly-man hero vanquishes all foes and saves helpless damsel” story. Here Wall-E will be a hero, sure, but thanks to his good-hearted nature, not his strength, and it will be Eve who saves him. Feminist supremacy, then? No, because it takes two to accomplish the mission, and no one wins alone here.
The part of the movie I want to emphasize is how the common gender traits are mostly reversed:
- Wall-E is gentle and caring, and he’s never violent – Eve easily gets upset, and she’s ready to shoot on sight
- Wall-E is cheerful and friendly – Eve is often unkind and sharp
- Wall-E is curious, joking and reaching out – Eve focuses on doing her job
- Wall-E never ceases to interact with what’s around him – Eve shuts down once her goal is reached
- Wall-E is sentimental (he loves old musicals) – Eve is cold and logical (in the first half of the movie)
- Wall-E has humble and limited skills – Eve is hi-tech and amazing
- Wall-E is practically harmless – Eve has heavy weaponry
- Wall-E’s job is cleaning up – Eve’s job is research and discovery
- Wall-E is bound to the ground – Eve flies effortlessly (in elemental symbology, the Earth is female and the Sky is male)
Now, it may sound like Eve is the jerk and Wall-E is the kind soul. And, at the beginning, it looks like that. But while the story develops, there’s much more than that: he will show relentless determination and resourcefulness, she will learn a lot from her scrappy friend. Even at the most thrilling point, traditional roles will be reversed: he will sacrifice, she will save the day.
Someone can think “Oh, then it’s a feminist movie: the hero is female now”, but it isn’t. Without Wall-E, Eve would be—literally—lost. This movie doesn’t simply switch the hero’s gender, it tells how much both characters (and, thus, genders) need each other to succeed and triumph, and how much they need to know and understand each other. It’s a story of friendship in the truest sense, and it manages to twist lots of gender stereotypes along the way.
From the list above, someone might think that Wall-E is portrayed the way many men are in modern media: weak and emasculated. Not at all. Although he’s sensitive and caring, Wall-E can be tough and manly:
- Despite the fact that he’s the only one of his kind remained, he goes on doing his duty every day.
- When he’s fascinated by Eve, he pursues her and manages to get her attention.
- When Eve shuts down, he takes care of and protects her.
- When the mission is in danger, he does everything to overcome any obstacle.
- And he never, ever gives up.
In a way, Wall-E is a fantastic role model. This rusty little chap shows that a male can be everything: sensitive and strong, romantic and daring, friendly and resolute, playful and valiant. He can be whole.
Bottom line: throughout the whole movie the gender binary is shaken and broken, and you will be hardly able to define who is feminine or masculine (not that you would care about it, since the two characters had you enchanted long before). Thus, Wall-E not only amuses, moves and inspires (and makes you think about ecology and consumerism, by the way), but it makes you doubt any supposed gender trait.
In the end, it doesn’t matter being male or female: what it matters is supporting your friends, doing the right thing, and sustaining life.