Wall-E: Creation, Repairing the World, and the Re-Creation of the World
November 14, 2010 at 1:15 pm, by Jonah Rank
A week and a half ago, I watched Wall-E again for the first time in about a year—or maybe two years. It’s a movie that, ever since the first time I saw it, has always moved me—almost literally. Once I saw Wall-E, I determined that I had to start getting in shape because American culture encourages a lot of sitting around and losing the shape of our bodies—vessels whose strengths and beauties I consider God-given and holy. (Just for the record, I still consider myself “not-yet-in-shape,” but I do attempt to exercise for about an hour everyday.) Anyway, although shemirat hagguf (the value of literally “protecting the body”) is something about which I hope to write more at some point, I watched Wall-E this time with something else in mind.
In preparation for a KOACH Shabbat (a weekend when programming about Conservative Judaism is brought to college campuses across North America), I watched Wall-E through a lens focusing on environmentalism and Judaism. The theme of the KOACH weekend was going to be environmentalism, and my to-do list for my time at the University of Vermont included prayer, talking about Conservative Judaism and environmentalism, and either doing a nature walk or talking about Wall-E and Judaism. (In the end, Wall-E won.)
Anyway, people who have seen Wall-E generally agree that there’s something of an environmentalist theme going on. This time around, I noticed a few important things that, for some reason, I didn’t realize the first few times I saw the film.
First off, whereas Wall-E is presented as a masculine robot, the complimentary feminine main character is named Eve. The name Eve should be familiar to those who have read the Biblical myths of the first two humans, Adam and Eve, from the first few chapters of Genesis. Furthermore, just as Adam is named after the material that leads to his existence (Adam being of the same root of the Hebrew word Adamah—ground), Wall-E is himself named after that which led him to being created, his purpose (a Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth Class). Somehow I totally missed that Biblical parallel the first time around.
Second, that there exists a paradise beyond the skies—out of earthly reach—is also a concept that is very resonant with both Judaism and Christianity. Whether the paradise is Heaven, the Garden of Eden or the floating Axiom in the sky, each of these narratives believes that there is an Olam Hazzeh—a present world—and a world beyond this world—an Olam Habba. But, the third most significant piece I noticed is where Wall-E alludes to a myth that exists in Judaism, and I am not sure if Christianity ever uses this language.
SEMI-SPOILER ALERT! I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say this much: the ending of Wall-E is something of a happy ending, and it involves the growing of things on Earth after a long absence of most of these items.
Every morning, a Jew reciting the words of a traditional Siddur refers to God as “Hamchaddesh betuvo bekhol yom tamid ma’aseh vereshit” (“the Renewer of, through Divine goodness, every day, the Act of Creation”). God is recognized in Judaism as a sacred source of, not only a creation that happened way long ago (whether that be back during the Big Bang, or only some 5700 years ago), but also a creation that happens every day.
From a traditional Jewish lens, the world may have been created at first in 6-7 days, but it is actually created anew every day anyway. I do not know if anyone has ever suggested that this is a Christian doctrine too, but this belief affirms the inspiration a Jew may feel in fulfilling the Divine command of Tikkun Olam—repairing the world. Tikkun Olam is a process of finding a mess, determining how to fix it, and, not only striving for the broken to become unbroken, but striving for the broken to become as good as new—as if created anew.
The creation of the world anew only requires, through a Jewish lens, the repairing of one soul, one item. Almost two millennia ago, it was taught in the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mishnah (in Sanhedrin 4:5) that anyone who saves one life is considered to have saved the entire world.
That we each can be Adams and Eves is an aspiration both in Judaism and in Wall-E. For Jews, it is both a reality and a responsibility that an old world lain to waste can be cleaned and nurtured into a world as good as new. Through these eyes, humans are blessed in the Divine image, with the capacity to repair and to renew the world each and every day.