“The Way of a Man with a Maid:” Real Romance in WALL-E

The Earth has become an enormous refuse heap. Toiling tirelessly amid the rubble is a little anthropomorphic trash compactor named WALL-E. With a cockroach as his only companion, WALL-E has been humming along for hundreds of years, cubing and stacking the endless sea of stuff that humans have used up and thrown away. The dust storms that arise from time to time seem bent on choking out whatever remains of life on this bleak, once-blue planet. Such a barren, post-apocalyptic world hardly seems to be a fertile setting for romance.

Living in an antiseptic culture of quick “hook-ups” and failed relationships, you would think that people would have built up resistance to the allure of real romance. But we have not. Despite the long odds of success — or perhaps because of them — we value real love. And while we often despair of ever finding it ourselves, we still yearn for the possibility. So even in a bleak world like WALL-E’s, we hope that love can bloom.

Fortunately, love — the people at Pixar remind us — is more concerned with character than with circumstances. Properly established and nourished, love can grow anywhere. It’s more about who you are, and who you’re with, than where you’re located. And so WALL-E serves as a kind of primer for prospective lovers who want to get it right, even in a world gone wrong. All it takes is a combination of desire, the right person, the right motive, and a keen sense of commitment to stay together, no matter what.

Not Good for Man to Be Alone

After God formed Adam out of the dust of the earth, He placed him in a garden called Eden. There was plenty of work to do, naming all of the animals and tending the garden, but, somehow, it was not enough to satisfy Adam. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Adam must have seen that the animals all had companions, but there was none that were suitable for him. He was lonely, desirous of a life mate. God obliged by creating Eve, who became Adam’s wife.

WALL-E has a lot in common with the first man, Adam. Even though WALL-E has a spunky, nigh indestructible, pet cockroach, he feels alone. He desires companionship and love. He tries to find satisfaction in work — sorting through cast-offs, saving what is valuable, and compacting the rest — but every night when he returns to his empty home he slaps in a VHS tape of the romantic musical Hello, Dolly!, and sees what he is missing. WALL-E longs for someone with whom he can hold hands and share his life. The objects he examines are just things; WALL-E desires to make a connection. And then, like an answer to his digital prayers, EVE descends from the sky.

Love is a Dangerous Game

Wall*EWhen EVE emerges from her trans-galactic slumber, she looks to WALL-E like the picture of perfection. Her body is sleek. She can fly. She expresses joy. When she wants to, she can even have hands — a prerequisite for the kind of canoodling that fires WALL-E’s imagination. Initially, WALL-E thinks this will be easy, like in the movies he loves, but he quickly discovers that romance can be a dangerous game. For EVE, this is not love at first sight.

Solomon tells us that “easy” women may look great on the outside, they may make themselves readily available to anyone’s advances, but in the end they lead to destruction, ruin, and death. God may have handed Eve over to Adam, but theirs was a match literally made in heaven. The better corollary of biblical romance is Jacob and Rachel. He fell in love with her right away, but before they could be together, he had to prove his worth. All great romances must overcome obstacles. Jacob had to serve for seven years before he could marry Rachel (and then another seven due to technical difficulties with her father). WALL-E has his own set of challenges.

To say that EVE doesn’t cozy right up to WALL-E is an understatement. Startled by his presence on what she believed to be an uninhabited planet, she trains a lethal weapon in his direction and lets fly. Though the resulting molten blast zone is dismaying to WALL-E, the brave little love-struck robot is not deterred. So he sets out, at no small risk to himself, to win EVE’s whirring heart.

All initial efforts to get EVE’s attention are fruitless. She is driven by her “directive” to seek out organic life – and WALL-E doesn’t qualify. He follows EVE around like a puppy. He tries to impress her with his artistic abilities. He, too, has a “directive” (what, in olden days, suitors called “prospects”), and so he demonstrates his compacting prowess. After all of his efforts, what he gets in return is an introduction. Her name is EVE. For now, that’s enough.

WALL-E as Wooer

WALL-E is not a desperate romantic. He has a life; he just wants to share it with someone. After rescuing EVE from a sandstorm (and using that pretense as his first opportunity to hold her hand), he takes her to the safety of his home. Once there, he shows her everything that he treasures. He introduces her to dancing — with some disastrous results (no one said love was safe). After this necessarily short courtship, WALL-E offers to EVE his most treasured object: a green sprout that WALL-E has planted in a boot.

It seals the deal, but not in the way WALL-E expects. This prized possession is also the object of her mission. She receives the plant and then, inexplicably, shuts down. Her arms and head retract, her eyes go dark, and a green light on her chest begins to flash.

WALL-E is mystified and alarmed. He calls out to her, but she is unable to answer. Not knowing what is wrong, not able to “fix” her, WALL-E does the one thing that separates the true lover from the sap. G.K. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy, noted that he was unimpressed with the romantic poets of his day. Sure, they would laugh and sigh and weep for love. They struck all the right poses. But Chesterton knew it for a sham, because there was one thing that these young fops would not do for love: sacrifice.

WALL-E as Sacrificial Lover

The test for success in marriage comes down to commitment: the act of the will that says that you will make every effort to act in a loving way toward your spouse every day of your life whether you feel like it that day or not. That is what made both the book and movie versions of The Notebook such hits. It is what made Titanic a smash. The Apostle Paul explains it this way, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Everyone would like to believe that somewhere in the world someone cares enough about them to love them no matter what. WALL-E brings plenty of laughs, but also a lot of sighs.

While EVE is, essentially, in a coma, WALL-E takes care of her. He keeps the rain off of her during a thunderstorm. He tries to bring her back to her senses by taking her out to watch a sunset, or paddling her around in a boat. When her mother ship comes to take her back, WALL-E latches on to follow her. He will not be parted from her. When EVE appears to be threatened, WALL-E comes to her rescue. When her mission is imperiled, WALL-E helps her. And when it is required, he lays his life on the line for her.

This is not to say that there are not moments of joy. WALL-E and EVE laugh together, dance together, and the spark of love passes between them. But theirs is a perilous world, and nothing but the deepest commitment can keep them together. EVE also saves WALL-E from a number of scrapes. When he is injured, she cares for him. When he is sent away, she follows him. When his life is on the line, she does all in her power to save him. They are separate robots from separate ages, but in the only way that truly counts, they are one.

What We Want

Solomon, the wisest man the world has ever known, wrote, “There are three things which are too wonderful for me, Four which I do not understand: The way of an eagle in the sky, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a ship in the middle of the sea, And the way of a man with a maid” (Proverbs 30:18-19). Committed love between a man and a woman is a near-magical bond, defying the efforts of seemingly stronger powers that seek to destroy it.

Despite its human imperfections, life-long, committed marriage is the metaphor chosen by God to reveal the relationship between Christ and those who love Him (Ephesians 5:32). Even if the world we know is not like the world we know we want, the very presence of the desire for committed love indicates at least the possibility of fulfillment. Some of us find it, temporally, in a lifetime relationship with our spouse. All of us can find it eternally with God. If it is this desire for committed love that ultimately draws us into a relationship with our Creator, then it is not surprising that people should find themselves “hard-wired” to respond with longing to love stories like WALL-E.

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