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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

WALL*E's Purpose Driven Life

“I don’t want to just survive—I want to live!” That fateful proclamation from the Captain of the Axiom spaceship occurs in one of the most pivotal moments in this week’s No. 1 movie, WALL*E.

Taking in a jaw-dropping $62.5 million in its first weekend alone, the movie about a love story between two robots is kind of a surprising summer hit. Though the movie is from Pixar (a studio that has produced a string of animated blockbusters), its largely dialogue-less first half is a departure from the quick-talking antics of the studio’s other successful films. More silent movie than children’s feature, the intellectual-leaning film has struck a chord with American moviegoers. And, of course, the gorgeous visual effects and classic love story play a role in its appeal, but the real point of connection comes in the form of a deeper storyline—the search for purpose.

The idea of searching for life’s deeper meaning has proved to be a timeless quest. From the Old Testament writings of Solomon in Ecclesiastes to the 20-million-copy-selling Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, there’s something deeply compelling about trying to find meaning through our day-to-day lives. It’s a theme that WALL*E is able to profoundly identify with.

As the Captain of the Axiom spaceship (the new, luxurious home of the human race) must decided whether to sacrifice all he knows in a search for purpose or continue in the mundane (yet exceedingly comfortable) lifestyle he has always known, the children’s film transcends a standard animated blockbuster and taps into an internal conflict as old as Solomon.

Meanwhile, while mankind floats around the galaxy on an endless luxury cruise, the lonely robot WALL*E (an acronym that stands for Waste, Allocation, Load, Lifer, Earth-Class) spends each day cleaning up the trash they left behind back on earth.

In the film, though WALL*E and the humans live two existences, literally worlds away, they both have come to the same realization—life without purpose is a sad reality. Like many ideas in the movie, it’s a largely unspoken realization, as characters cruise through life without a larger since of fulfillment. In the book of Ecclesiastes, which many scholars believe was written by King Solomon, the author looks at both perspectives as he reflects on his privileged life as a mighty king and the lives of those who served under him. And, even though it’s a children’s story, WALL*E also showcases these same perspectives.

The loveable, hard-working robot WALL*E seems to perfectly symbolize Solomon’s description of this search for purpose when he rhetorically asks:

“What does anyone gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3, TNIV).

Day in and day out, WALL*E wanders the abandon landscape of a forgotten city, picking up endless bits of garbage in a monotonous routine of toil under the sun. His only relief from the mundane existence he has come to know is through the friendship of a cockroach and the repeated viewings of a worn-out videotape that shows what life and love used to be like on earth.

If anyone personifies (or in this case, “robotifies”) the “meaningless” life Solomon extolled, it’s poor WALL*E.

Ironically, Solomon’s resolution to this observation of despair is to escape in the one thing that WALL*E is really longing for—companionship. A few verses later, Solomon makes this declaration:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If they fall down, they can help each other up. But pity those who fall and have no one to help them up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

For WALL*E, who for hundreds of years has toiled alone, the chance encounter with another robot (whom he falls in love with) proves to be the meaning and hope he’s been looking for. Through self-sacrifice and acts of kindness, WALL*E finds there is more to life than just day-to-day work. Humans on the other-hand, live a very different life. Having left a plundered earth for the pampered life in the Axiom, they live lives of excess and wealth. They can relate to Ecclesiastes’ teacher when he said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure” (Ecclesiastes 2:10).

In the movie, people float around on cushy chairs, drinking milkshakes and watching TV, wanting nothing more than to pass their days in comfort. But like the humbled king in Ecclesiastes, characters onboard too find that the allure of pleasure and wealth is “meaningless” and they are essentially “chasing the wind.”

The emptiness of their lives of wealth and consumption were also foretold in the book.

“As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?” (Ecclesiastes 5:11).

There’s one scene in the film, leading up to the Captain’s proclamation of wanting to experience what life is all about, that is also reaffirmed in the ancient book. As he ponders the meaning of sustaining a comfortable life against the possibility of risking it all to find purpose, he looks at the pictures of all the captains who came before him and sees that though they (and he) will come and go, everything stayed the same onboard the ship and in the lives of the people they were in charge of.

“Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever … There is no remembrance of people of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them” (Ecclesiastes 1:4-11).

But as the movie plays out, the characters are left with a choice. Do I continue in the mundane (yet secure and comfortable) life I have always known, or will I risk all I have to find a deeper purpose?

Though the story is framed through the lens of a sci-fi family film, the inner conflict is one of universal connection—especially for Christians. In an interview with Christianity Today about the film, co-writer and director Andrew Stanton said that his Christian faith influenced the message of the movie. “The greatest commandment is to love one another, and to me, that's the ultimate purpose of living,” he said.

You’ll have to go watch the movie to see how the Captain and WALL*E decided to face their choices, but as for Solomon, his search for meaning ended long ago.

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the [duty] of every human being” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

And in Pixar’s world, that goes for robots too.

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