Reading Wall-E An assignment for the first four chapters of laudato si for t/rs 122 (Scranton)

The assignment for this week involves studying a few scenes, and some music, from the Pixar film Wall-E. (Those resources will be provided below.) Your task is to explain the relationship between humans, technology, and the earth depicted in the scenes and music provided. You must complete the task, however, by using Pope Francis's letter Laudato Si as the text that helps you get a critical edge on the tripartite relationship depicted in Wall-E. Even the robots themselves are anthropomorphized; they are rendered human, which is a classic trope of Disney's. Non-human objects and creatures are rendered persons by virtue of language and behavior recognizable to us. The relationship between Wall-E and Eve, for example, is a love story set against the backdrop of Hello Dolly! (1969 version); the space-dance scene is beautiful and creates connections even between the human passengers, who finally see outside themselves to a world where true connection is possible (they literally bump into one another).

The recognition of this anthropomorphic trick of today's animation studios helps us in our reading of Pope Francis's letter. An "anthropos" is a human being. Anthropology is the study of human being. The papal letter uses the word with the modifier "Christian" to create "Christian Anthropology." What I am suggesting is that the Christian anthropology of Laudato Si is more easily understood and explained when read through the lens of Wall-E. If we simply focus on the example provided above, you notice that the film depicts humans as endlessly absorbed in digital media and technology, ignoring their own health and one another. According to the letter, "when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously...Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise" (Laudato Si, par. 47.). Recall that previously we examined the letter's claim that despite "all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love" (Laudato Si, par. 58). The romance forming much of the narrative of Wall-E assumes this principle wholeheartedly.

So what do I mean when I say that we come to understand what the letter is saying about Christian anthropology when we look at it through the lens of this Pixar film (or at least these clips)? Notice paragraph 116 of the letter: "An inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology gave rise to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world. Often, what was handed on was a Promethean vision of mastery over the world, which gave the impression that the protection of nature was something that only the faint-hearted cared about. Instead, our "dominion" over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship." The opening scene begins with our adopting the viewpoint of a space-flight, approaching the earth. We are flown through space-junk first, which we now know affect our star-gazing (countries are calling for increasing regulations on the launching of satellites since the size and amount now obscures the night sky). The post-apocalyptic depiction of earth builds into starker and starker devastation as we come to meet our main character, the trash-compacting robot, Wall-E.

Popular culture is full of other examples that drive stories people find attractive. Here are some resources from Avatar that also depict the kind of misguided anthropology the letter mentions; the humans are in search of unobtanium but must devastate Pandora to get at the precious resources (precious to whom?).

The recent viewing of The Mission provides its own meditation on human abuses of human communities and the environment of the Amazon (see Pope Francis's recent writings on the Amazon). Remember that the Cardinal responds to the claim from the Portuguese slave-trader that "The world is thus," with a reply, "No; Thus have we made the world," at the end of the movie.

Thus have we made the world.

The assignment for this week is intended to show me you are reading Pope Francis's letter, and using some of the resources I continue to supply. I hope it proves fun, too, since you can delve into Wall-E as you think about weightier matters addressed by the Pope. View the following scenes:

For the last one, add a reading of the lyrics composed by Peter Gabriel for this song.

In an Adobe Spark Page like this one, which is listed as a Web Page, explain to me how the film clips and the music help us to understand better what Pope Francis's letter addresses both as the problems of our relationship to one another, and the earth, as well as some of the ways that a Catholic vision of love can provide us with hope for the future. I gave you clips from the beginning and end of the movie, bookending it for you with the initial vision of post-apocalyptic devastation, and ending with the hopeful renewal of the earth through a new Eve, with her "Adam" discovering the first sign of new organic life amidst the detritus of earth. As Pope Emeritus Benedict CVI writes, our own desire to pursue the common good is a demand of justice and charity. In my T/RS 121 courses, I usually emphasize the notion that justice in its biblical roots contains this notion of "right relationship." If a law is violated, a person needed to make amends to re-establish the correct relationship between the person and the community before God. (Do you remember the Day of Atonement?) The letter, as well as Wall-E, envision a restoration of right relationship between humans and the earth, guided by charity (love). Even the technological advances in the form of robots are assisting in the re-planting of Eden in the final credits of Wall-E, providing us a vision of harmony akin to that which we witnessed in Dante's Divine Comedy.

The completion of the assignment will be judged on your use of Adobe Spark, and so thought should be put into what pictures, videos, links, etc., are included in the presentation. It will also be judged according to your use of the letter itself. Please select passages, introduce those passages, and comment on those passages as they pertain to the film selections and song. In this assignment you are helping me to see how you are processing the letter, and your creativity can shine through by engaging Wall-E with your insights into how the letter is illuminated by the clips and song, as well as in the way you present the material within this format through Adobe.

The advantage of this format is that it can communicate using many forms of media, from pictures, to hyperlinks, to videos. In spite of the glitz, you must nevertheless consider it to be an essay that is rendered in a new form. Compose sound sentences. Observe the writing conventions you have learned at the University. Communicate clearly. All the while, try to keep an audience in mind that is not your professor; do not think of me as your reader. Rather, think of your audience as a set of High School students (9th-graders) eager to learn from you how a fun film like Wall-E can help them understand the stuff the Pope says in the first four chapters of Laudato Si. That is an enormous amount of material, so it is unreasonable to assume you would cover it all. Rather, what you are tasked to complete is a "reading" of those chapters from your perspective as particular and pertinent themes emerge that are naturally in conversation with the way Wall-E itself communicates. Pixar hits environmental notes all the time, as the studio did in the scene I shared before from Finding Nemo where the phrase "all drains lead to the ocean" is used; it raises awareness about how our behaviors impact the environment. How about this scene from Finding Dory:

Having identified with Dory, a viewer will likely assess plastic packaging differently after watching this film. Likewise, Wall-E ends on hopeful notes, while leaving viewers conscious of their carbon footprint, even if that phrase conjures up aversions due to political persuasions.

In short, tell those 9th-graders in your local school what connections you make. But be sure to model to them how to cite properly. So, if you use sources, cite them in a works cited section at the end, and, where possible, provide hyperlinks, create buttons, and render your "essay" an interactive masterpiece as another way to observe proper attribution to others' work. As I have done, you are welcome to make all kinds of references and associations to assist your audience. There are references you care about that may assist in comprehension, so don't be shy about drawing on your strengths and using this as an opportunity to paint broadly with all that you now know as University-educated folk.

Due by Saturday evening, May 2nd, before 11:30pm in the Dropbox provided on D2L titled "Wall-E & Pope Francis." [The words that are your own within the Spark Page must amount to AT LEAST 500 words. No limit, however, is imposed beyond that amount.]

Created By
Cyrus Olsen


Created with images by Randy Laybourne - "A view some metal in the process of being recycled. Cross-process 35 mm film" • Jeremy Thomas - "Stars Galaxy Rocky Mountain" • Brett Ritchie - "Taken from the Far South Coast of New South Wales, Australia." • Yash Raut - "Beacon"