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?