Eric D. Snider

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How religious is ‘WALL-E’?

(This post contains minor “WALL-E” spoilers.)

Many of you saw “WALL-E” over the weekend, and no doubt some of you noticed biblical themes in it. You can’t name a main character “Eve” without invoking the Garden of Eden, of course; nobody could miss that. But what about all the humans living on a ship and waiting for an envoy to return with a plant as proof that it was safe to go home? Did that remind anyone of Noah’s Ark and the dove?

In my review, I mentioned that there were biblical allusions along with the cinematic references like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Buster Keaton. (I didn’t mention it, but writer/director Andrew Stanton is a Christian, and he discusses how that influences his work in this interview.) My review prompted a Methodist minister to write to me:

I have read 7 reviews so far all by the “top” critics, and while they are all excellent writers, they all, until you, have missed the biblical narratives so skillfully woven into the story. Thanks for having the guts to mention it.

Here is what I wrote to another critic:

I just returned from from WALL-E with my wife and 3 kids. I give it 4 1/2 stars. An incredible movie. I sat down to read the reviews and I am very pleased by the critics reviews but very dissapointed that some of the major influences of the movie’s themese have been glossed over by all the critics. And how shall I say this…let’s see…the images are biblical. A bit dsjointed and mixed but biblical nonetheless.

Wall-E = Adam who tends the detroyed earth EVE (an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) = Eve and the apple AXIOM Ship = Noah’s Arch ferrying all the survivors over the detroyed planet The Plant = The plant which was brought to the captain (in Noah’s case by a dove) symbolising the rebirth of the earth and the ability to go back.

The landing of the ship and the doors opening and all the people walking back to repopulate the earth was without question unmistakably biblical.

I guess you get my point by now. It seems to me that critics are too scared to acknowledge the themes that they know are so obviously there. I will let you fill in the reasons for their tamidity.

I responded to the minister as follows:

Thanks for the e-mail. I’m glad you appreciated my review.

I feel like I should speak up in my colleagues’ defense, though. I doubt they’re “scared” or reluctant to acknowledge the biblical themes. Plenty of critics have mentioned religious themes in plenty of reviews of plenty of films before. In all likelihood, if critics haven’t mentioned the biblical stuff, it’s either because they didn’t feel like it was as integral a part of the story as you did (which is subjective, of course), or because they simply didn’t have room for it.

You only have so much space to write a review, and it’s not like you can express every single thought about every single aspect of the film — and “WALL-E” is a particularly dense movie with a lot of layers, so there’s a lot to talk about. You could write an entire review focusing only on the environmental message of the film, or its politics, or its allusions to “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Or, yes, its biblical references. You write about whatever strikes you the most, and that reaction is going to be different for everyone.

But he wasn’t having any of that! No, sir, if the critics failed to mention the biblical themes, it can only because they’re too chicken to bring up religion in today’s secular environment! He replied:

Well said and I will take your words to heart. I have read 4 more since my email each bereft of any mention. That 10 of 11 would avoid the reference is at least curious. It seemed that most of them, though I would need to go back and count, do mention the silent movie error [he must mean "era"] and 2001. So there was nothing in the need for brevity weeding those themes out. I understand your defense and respect it but the numbers reveal an aversion.

Actually, of course, all the numbers reveal is that the influences of the silent era and “2001″ stuck out in the critics’ minds more than the biblical allusions. Which makes perfect sense, really — these are movie buffs we’re talking about. Naturally “WALL-E’s” references to other movies will loom larger in their minds than its references to the Bible. And just as naturally, a Christian minister might come out of the film feeling like the biblical references were most prominent.

I’ve only had a chance to ask one critic friend why he didn’t mention the biblical stuff in his review, and he said it’s because he didn’t notice it. (Well, Eve, obviously, but that’s it.) So it would seem it is possible for different people to take entirely different messages out of the same film.

Those of you who have seen it, what stood out most to you as being the film’s primary influences and themes?

23 Responses to “How religious is ‘WALL-E’?”

  1. FHL Says:

    Well, at least the minister was being polite in his responses. He must not have known you were LDS. ;)

  2. Cameron Says:

    The biblical themes certainly seemed prominent to me — equally as prominent as the “2001″ or Chaplin allusions/homages — though that could easily be the product of my religious frame of mind and upbringing.

  3. pizzocalabro Says:

    I noticed some of the biblical references, but I kind of ignored them because they were so incoherent. I certainly wouldn’t have said the Bible was one of the film’s “influences.” Given the director’s religion, however, maybe it was a major influence, and underlies some of the major themes, and I just didn’t get that.

    I would have said the main themes are represented by/summed up in the two Hello, Dolly! songs that played through much of the film, “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes A Moment.” The first is about being upbeat and going and seeing the world (among other things); the second is about love at first sight. But then, I’m not very sensitive to theme or nuance.

  4. The Ides of Mark Says:

    One theory has not been mentioned yet – is it possible some reviewers simply didn’t recognize some of the allusions? (I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I’m not sure how obscure or obvious they are)

    After all, Moby Dick has a gazillion Biblical allusions, and yet how many high school students will read this passage from Chapter CXXVIII:

    “By her still halting course and winding, woful way, you plainly saw that this ship that so wept with spray, still remained without comfort. She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not”

    and immediately say “Of course! A reference to Jeremiah 31:15!”

  5. William Goss Says:

    “And just as naturally, a Christian minister might come out of the film feeling like the biblical references were most prominent.”

    And how many self-proclaimed Christian critics have posted similarly on ye olde Rotten Tomatoes? Bingo, dude – it’s there ‘coz you were lookin’ for ‘em.

  6. Savvy Veteran Says:

    I did not think the biblical references were all that obvious, in fact I only recognized the Noah’s Ark one when I re-read your review after seeing the movie. I actually saw the movie again tonight (Family Night!) and wasn’t even thinking about it in the slightest until I read this post. The only one I thought of upon the first viewing really was that Wall-E (Adam) giving Eve (Eve) the plant was basically him putting his seed in her belly (metaphorically, and literally, if you could call that her “belly”). This guy should not be worrying about all of these critics not mentioning the religious stuff, if I had been writing a review I wouldn’t have even mentioned it, and I’m religious myself..

  7. card Says:

    I noticed all of the above, and I also noticed the get-off-your-lazy-bum-and-live-life theme.

  8. Randy Tayler Says:

    I missed half an hour of the film because I fell asleep — not that the movie wasn’t great, but I’ve been missing a lot of sleep because I have a newborn baby.

    That said, I have a degree in film with an emphasis in screenwriting, and I completely missed any and all biblical allegories. I’m embarrassed, really. But I’m not sure how they tie into the theme, which seemed to be “get off your lazy bum” and “stop and smell the roses”.

    I need to see it again.

  9. Leah Jane Says:

    I’m not at all religious, but I did take note of the biblical themes when watching the movie. I thought it was just another charming layer to the movie’s very rich and fulfilling plot, as mentioned already. I think it was an interesting choice, Noah’s Ark does seem to be a popular biblical story for parents to use as an introduction to the bible for younger children in my experience.

  10. Jennifer Says:

    The main theme that came away with me was the environmental one, most likely because it’s a big deal here in the west with all the fires and droughts and all.

  11. GWGumby Says:

    I noticed EVE immediately, possibly even before seeing the movie. The Ark symbology, though, was lost on me, but makes sense now. But does the movie really contain Biblical themes? Or are these just references, just like the 2001 references?

  12. brandt Says:

    While I tried to look for biblical themes, they weren’t as blatantly obvious as I was thinking they would be.

    The main religious theme that my wife mentioned to me as we were walking out, was the concept of our “Stewardship over the earth” and respecting what we have…

    but that really wouldn’t be a religious theme, more of a good message

  13. Rachel Says:

    I was raised in a church-going family and think I’m pretty Bible-savvy, but I totally missed the biblical allusions. I was caught up in the lack of dialogue (which I liked), and the “turn off your cursed Blackberry, we’re all turning into giant blobs!” message. That, along with the obvious environmental issues, seemed to dominate. I think you see what you want to see, or what is most pertinent to your life. My husband’s blackberry drives me crazy, so that is probably why it was so obvious in my mind. I live in the West and we are always trying to conserve, so that also is at the front of my brain. The bible stuff…I see it now that it has been pointed out, but I didn’t notice it at first.

  14. Niall Says:

    Quote of the year: ‘He must mean “era”‘…

  15. B Says:

    error instead of era, arch instead of arc, the minister needs to learn that spell-check isn’t infallible.

  16. bfwebster Says:

    My reaction was pretty much the same as Rachel’s — I noticed the ‘EVE’, but the overriding themes seemed to be anti-consumerism and pro-environment. Fortunately, the movie was so well done, so funny, and so exquisitely animated that the message came across as gentle chiding rather than heavy-handed lecturing.

    My comment to my wife as we left the theater yesterday was that this was the world’s longest, most expensive, and best-done Looney Tunes cartoon ever. And I meant that as highest praise. ..bruce..

  17. Raul Says:

    [SPOILERS]
    I still don’t get a few things about the movie. In the spaceship the humans were eating and drinking and creating huge amounts of trash that was just thrown into space. Where were they getting all the resources to make all their food and all the stuff that turned into the trash? They spoke of the never ending food supply without describing it, but without some sort of magic you can’t create tons of metal and plastic out of thin air to make robots and cups and chairs.
    I left the movie wondering how the next few years of life went for the tubby humans. They left their cushy pointless lives to go back into the harsh world without any idea of what they were doing, how to plant and harvest, how to build anything, etc. It didn’t even show that they had animals with them. Their robots may have done a lot of it for them, but even they wouldn’t be programed to till the earth. I wonder how many of the humans would be whining to go back into the space ship and just sit on their chairs.

  18. Chris Says:

    * Mild spoilers *

    I just saw “Wall-E” a few hours ago. I didn’t notice the biblical references, until afterwards, when my wife pointed them out to me. Not even the name “Eve” was an obvious sign to me, until after I’d seen the movie. I guess I hadn’t connected a tough gun-wielding girl-bot with Adam’s wife.

    I’m a sci-fi buff, so I was actually looking for a lot of post-apocalyptic, dystopian themes in the film. I caught the “2001: A Space Odyssey” references, including the use of the “Also sprach Zarathustra” fanfare, by Richard Strauss. In “2001,” the fanfare was used when the ape discovered he could use a bone as a weapon. In “Wall-E,” it was when the oversized captain began to walk. A few strains from “The Blue Danube Waltz” was in the film as well, and of course there was a “Hal 9000″-ish ‘bot. Furthermore, the barren Earth reminded me of “The Road Warrior” and other post-apocalyptic sci-fi flicks a little bit, but only in setting (desert wasteland).

    But, besides all the sci-fi references, what stuck out the most in my mind was this is a love story, and I liked it. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy chases girl, girl notices boy, girl falls in love with boy, etc. “Hello Dolly” served to reinforce this aspect of the story in “Wall-E.”

    But, it’s interesting now to see people point out the biblical allusions that I’d overlooked. They weren’t too obvious to me on my first viewing, but now that I’m thinking of it, I do recall seeing such allusions in “Wall-E.”

    What a great film, indeed! I think that “Wall-E” is closer to artistic perfection than any other CGI film… ever.

  19. Bret Says:

    I didn’t think of Noah’s Ark at all but instead ran with the Adam and Eve theme. The Plant is the Forbidden Fruit that sends the people living in the Garden of Eden (i.e. they don’t have to work for their food or anything else but sit around and be entertained) into the Lone and Dreary World. I also like the seed idea being planted in Eve by “Adam” mentioned above.

    As for the minister, he is certainly asking too much of critics but Eric handled it nicely and he responded kindly (though I think Eric’s last two paragraphs here might have helped the guy even more), so I don’t see why many here feel the need to give him a hard time.

  20. Adam Says:

    This is fascinating. I had no idea there were biblical or christian themes in this movie.

    All I’ve heard so far is that right-wing nutjobs have been going crazy saying the movie is full of left wing propaganda. It’s too pro-environment, too anti-corporation, too anti-fat people, even too fascist!

    This truly must be a special movie indeed to push so many buttons.

  21. Andrew D Says:

    I’ve been reading this stuff about the film and just saw the movie this morning with that in mind. I thought it was very slightly preachy about the environment, but not overwhelmingly so. I didn’t really notice any striking evidence of biblical themes besides the remote similarities already mentioned.

  22. Eric Herman Says:

    I just saw this the other day and didn’t once think of any religious allusions, and none really jumped out at me during the film… And that was after having read this blog post.

  23. Adam Kehler Says:

    Although this is late, I found another allusion. If you think about it, Auto is like the Pharaoh in the story of Moses. Auto was refusing to let the Axiom go back to earth. the Captain is Moses in this story.

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