Dr Jim Pontificating in Edmonton on Wall-E and Silent Running
Posted on March 18, 2014 at 5:53 pm by Dr. Jim
This Friday (March 21), starting at 3:00 pm in L-2 of the Humanities Building
And the Lord Human made Huey, Dewey, Louie, Wall-E, and Eve.
The Deification of Humanity in Silent Running and Wall-E
This is hopefully the final pre-publication version of the paper I’ve been playing with over the past year. My thanks to Jessica Swann of the U. of Alberta Religious Studies Grad Students Society for the invite and the organizing of everything!
The 1972 film, Silent Running (dir. Douglas Trumbull) and the 2008 hit animated feature, Wall-E (dir. Andrew Stanton), revolve around themes of a future Earth unable to support vegetation. Both films freely adapt Genesis’s stories of paradise and Noah’s ark, albeit to different ends. Neither film is a warning about the death of humanity because of environmental damage, but a call to “enlightenment”, i.e., to knowledge of a true relationship between nature and humanity. Yet, both films undermine this truth even as it is asserted as they seemingly put an ignorant humanity in the place of a deity as creators of robots that carry “true” human ideals.
Silent Running is set aboard one of a number of giant spacecraft housing the last remnants of Earth’s forests. The story revolves around a crew member, Freeman Lowell, and the ship’s three robots (Huey, Dewey, and Louie). Enraged by an order to destroy the forest-domes so that the ship can return to commercial use, Lowell murders his crew-mates. Before committing suicide, he leaves one forest-dome in the care of Dewey. Silent Running’s idealistic but disturbing hero is both Adam and Cain but also God, in appointing Dewey to biblical Adam’s task of preserving the garden.
The 2008 hit animated feature, Wall-E stars an earth-bound machine and his robotic romantic interest, Eve. Wall-E is a kind of inverted Adam figure, cleaning up the planet after it was abandoned by humans until vegetation can grow again. Again, humanity is in no danger of extinction although they are unknowingly in the control of a computer system that does not want an Exodus back to earth. With children in its intended audience, Wall-E is a far more optimistic film.
The two films “humanize” the robots with emotions and they become idealized humans charged with a “sacred” mission on behalf of “natural” humanity. The films appear to be asking whether people can live up to the human potential of their own creations. As creators, however, humans assume the role of gods, but the two films differ on the potential of humanity to be restrained by the products of its own ingenuity.