Falling in Love with a Robot

Falling in Love with a Robot

Monday night, while hundreds of people were swarming into Tinseltown’s first, second and third auditoriums to see “Dark Knight” (the latest Batman movie) Kathy and I were seated in an otherwise empty auditorium watching WALL-E, the latest masterpiece from the gifted folks at Pixar.  Actually,  we were the only two people in the theater until the opening credits were rolling; at that point, two high school guys slipped in at the side,  making a grand total of four people to watch one of the best films of the year.  Granted, WALL-E has been out for several weeks now  but it still made me a little sad to see  this endearing little robot being crowded aside so soon, before everyone has had a chance to see him on the big screen.   (This is most emphatically a film worth seeing in a movie theater – waiting for it to come out on DVD is a grave mistake.)

Normally,  the only way I would get Kathy to see a sci-fi film is by kidnapping her father and threatening to do him bodily harm unless she went with me . . .  but I didn’t have time to do that this time around.  I just asked her – and in a moment of weakness, she said yes. . . probably thinking of this more as a cartoon than a sci fi film. . .   and lo and behold, she loved it almost as much as I do.  It helps that this movie is, at its heart,  a love story between two robots-  WALL-E, who’s a clunky, clanky, garbage compactor / and EVE, who’s an incredibly sleek and advanced botanical probe.   (Think Romeo and Juliet but with transistors.)  It’s also a film with a couple of powerful messages about treating our planet with care and about not allowing ourselves to become hopelessly, helplessly addicted to computer screens at the expense of experiencing the real world around us.  .  . although I liked the fact that the film does not get bogged down in the moral of the story or hit us over the head with it.

What is especially impressive to me is how remarkably alive yet believable WALL-E is.   He has an absolutely endearing personality and we fall in love with him-  and yet, it feels like he’s a real robot.   Of course, he’s an exceptional robot  (not all robots are hooked on songs from “Hello, Dolly”)   but nonetheless he is both a “him” and an “it.”  That’s because they made him clunky – with parts that fall off or get dented – other parts that rust – and even speckle him with grit and grime.  And it’s a good thing, too, because if they hadn’t taken such care in creating WALL-E, then the love story with EVE would lose all of its impact and poignancy.  I’m reminded of one of my favorite books growing up, which was titled “The Runaway Robot.”  The robot in question belonged to a young boy who was going to have to give him/it up because his family was about to move to a different planet. Boy and Robot run away together and have all sorts of misadventures. . .  and although it all ends happily,  they have a very rough time trying to stay one step ahead of the law.  I read that and was completely enchanted with the idea of having my own Robot – – – but I’m realizing now in retrospect that one essential ingredient in making the story work was in how believably crafted the robot was . . . having some very human characteristics,  yet being unmistakably mechanical as well.   (Lazy writers make robots into human beings that just happen to be made of wires.  It’s much trickier and more impressive to create a robot that is an intriguing, blended  mix of machine and man.)   The creators of WALL-E have achieved the same delicate balancing act, and that is so essential to this story and its ultimate success.

Anyway,  it’s an incredible film –  and one of my reactions to it is that if I had somehow been given a budget of a zillion dollars and all the time in the world,  I never could have come up with this concept or a movie 1/100th as good as this one. . .  whereas when I go to other movies I often feel like I could probably do just about as good as the director did. . . if not better.   (How pompous is that?)  This took such vision – such creativity – such originality – and I can only bow in humility before the geniuses who created this.  And now having seen it twice (I saw it the first time with Marshall) I am ready to see it a third and fourth time.  I laughed and laughed – and was made to think –  and also had a lump in my throat at several points.  And by the way, the little short film before it is hysterically funny . . .  I was in danger of rupturing my intestines from laughing so hard.  (But what a way to go!)

So if you still can,  get thee to a movie theater and see WALL-E.  But do not delay, lest ye taste the bitterness of disappointment.

pictured:  an entirely illegal photo I snapped during WALL-E. In this photo, WALL-E is “conversing” with his good friend, the cockroach.