WALL•E – Relationships Are Work, Good Work

Thematic Reflection

Within moments of meeting WALL*E (i.e. Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth Class), we are faced with a series of questions that strike at the heart of the human condition. Does my work matter? Does anyone care? Will I always be lonely? The film’s opening segment begins in space, suggesting that there is something more to life than the mundane – there’s something “out there.” The camera quickly shifts its focus to the earth below where the viewer meets a lone robot, hard at work collecting and organizing trash (a seemingly infinite task in light of the Earth’s state of disrepair). This endless work is WALL*E’s plight: He is alone. He is isolated. Yet he works diligently. In the opening segment, the film does not insist on a way to understand WALL*E or his circumstances, but invites us to feel WALL*E’s loneliness, to empathize with his sense of duty, and to long with him for the day when he will experience the transforming effects of a life-giving relationship.

Interestingly, WALL*E is almost unaware of how tedious his labor really is or how lonely he has become until he meets EVE (i.e. Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) – a robot whose sleek design and technological capabilities captivate him. WALL*E’s sense of duty is immediately reassigned from waste allocation to his relationship with EVE. In fact, he attends to his new friend in the same way he tended the earth before. We accept this almost unthinkingly because, just like humans, this little robot longs for meaningful relationships. Yet, he is unable to discover the deeper meaning – the deeper joy – of his work or his newfound relationship until he encounters the threat of losing them. WALL*E thus offers us a picture of our disoriented relationships with work, with the planet, and with others.

Whereas WALL*E dutifully cares for both the Earth and for EVE, the human beings in the film have abandoned the Earth, ignored their work, and, by extension, fallen out of relationship with each other. In all cases, a fundamental problem is not a matter of how much or how little one works at a job or on a relationship, but of failing to recognize how fleeting and thus, how precious, life really is. Acting out of duty often becomes the means by which we struggle to make work and relationships meaningful. Work becomes an end unto itself. But as the author of Ecclesiastes reminds us, our tendency to manufacture meaning in this way actually robs us of our ability to enjoy the very thing we so desperately seek.

Work and relationships matter, but the joy we derive from them is rooted not in obligation but in the recognition that life is a gift. Like the humans who return to the ravaged Earth along with WALL*E and EVE in the film, our response to this gift should be marked by a spirit of gratitude and cultivation rather than coercion and manipulation. Only then will our work and our relationships and our environment flourish.

Key Scenes

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Discussion Questions

For Adults

Watch Clip 1.

1) What aspects of WALL*E’s work in this scene reflect the way you feel about your job?
2) Is your job “just a job,” or is it a “calling?” Why or why not? 

Watch Clip 2, and read Ecclesiastes 9:9–10 below.

1) Does your commitment to work ever prevent you from cultivating relationships?
2) Does your longing for relationship ever prevent you from cultivating your calling?  
3) How does your sense of loneliness or isolation affect your longing for relationship?

Watch Clip 3.

1) What does it mean to cultivate something?
2) How might a spirit of cultivation allow us to find joy in our work and our relationships? 

For Families

Watch Clip 1, and read Ecclesiastes 9:10.

1) In what ways is being a member of this family like work?
2) Do you feel alone in this work?
3) What work do you do that you truly enjoy?

Watch Clip 2, and read Ecclesiastes 4:9–12.

1) Do we attend to each other like WALL*E tends to EVE? Why or why not?
2) Is our family more like a three-stranded cord or three strands lying side by side (Eccl. 4:12)?

Watch Clip 3.

1) Imagine that our home is a garden and each of us are plants of some kind.
2) What kind of plant would each of us be?
3) If you were the gardener, how would you help the garden grow? How could you hurt it?

For Students

Watch Clip 1, and read Ecclesiastes 4:9–10.

1) When do you feel most alone or isolated?
2) What do you do during those moments of isolation or loneliness?
3) How do you respond to others who are lonely?

Watch Clip 2, and read Ecclesiastes 4:11–12.

1) What is the single most important relationship you have?
2) What would cause you to care for someone like WALL*E cares for EVE?
3) What would keep you from doing so?

Watch Clip 3.

1) What does it mean to cultivate something?
2) How do you cultivate a relationship?

For Children

Watch Clip 1.

1) How do you think WALL*E feels in this scene?
2) Do you ever feel lonely like WALL*E? When?
3) What do you do when you are lonely?

Watch Clip 2, and read Ecclesiastes 4:9–12.

1) Who is your best friend? Why?
2) What is great about having a best friend?
3) How can God be a kind of best friend to us?

Watch Clip 3.

1) Imagine that we all live in a garden and each of us are plants of some kind.
2) What kind of plant would you be?
3) If you were the gardener, how would you help these plants grow? How do you think God helps us grow?

Related Scriptures

Enjoy life with your beloved wife during all the days of your fleeting life that God has given you on earth; for that is your reward in life and in your burdensome work on earth.
Whatever you find to do with your hands, do it with all your might, because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, the place where you will eventually go.

(Ecclesiastes 9:9-10)

Two people are better than one,
because they can reap more benefit from their labor.
For if they fall, one will help his companion up,
but pity the person who falls down and has no one to help him up.
Furthermore, if two lie down together, they can keep each other warm,
but how can one person keep warm by himself?
Although an assailant may overpower one person,
two can withstand him.
Moreover, a three-stranded cord is not quickly broken. 

(Ecclesiastes 4:9–12)

More Resources for Further Reflection and Discussion

On Work
Shared Stories
On Losses and Longings
The Power of Film – WALL*E