It all started with a box of tissues. And a cupboard. And procrastination guilt – lots and lots of procrastination guilt. And a blanket with a logo and a pocket for my feet. And, of course, the obligatory dark and stormy night.
I had a cold. Nothing special, just a speech-slurring, snot-spewing, tooth-aching, eye-piercing, brain-blowing delight. It was debilitating enough, as colds go, and it just happened to coincide with the biggest storm of the spring outside – with sultry, warm cascades of rain and long, low rumbles of thunder.
I sat down in my basement armchair, picked up the remote, and started surfing through 189 channels of mindless shit. Reality this, sports that – perfect for me, if I really stopped to think about it: more than likely I’d have my eyes closed in a few minutes anyway.
I sipped gingerly from my snifter of brandy – one of the very few fringe benefits of being sick – scrunched my face up tight and, looking around the room, contemplated what to do.
Suddenly, a cupboard beckoned – the one under the television. Movies lived in there, my little collection of flicks – some good, some not. With nothing good on TV, maybe I could kill my sniffles with a mini movie-watching marathon.
Too lazy and tired to physically get up and pick a movie I used my remote to switch my system to the DVD player: it had been a while since I’d used it so I had no idea what was still in there. The multi-disc player buzzed and whirred to life, flashed a dispassionate ‘good evening’ at me, and settled into the spinning of whatever was in space number five.
WALL-E. Oh yes, that’s right: the little Disney love story. A garbage-crunching robot with a heart, a mind, a loving, sweet soul and a single-minded determination to inspire even the most curmudgeonly among us.
I remembered the first time I’d watched it. I was in the kitchen cooking dinner. I’d made the mistake, as I worked, of not paying attention to it as it played away on my kitchen TV/DVD. It was slicing lettuce and carrots and sprinkling seasonings that captivated me as the chicken dinner came slowly together. Every once in a while as I worked I’d glance over at the television, seeing the robot’s silly antics as it tracked around, chirping, clicking, whirring against a backdrop of a brown, rubbish-strewn, post-apocalyptic world. Childishness, was my first thought as I chopped away weepingly at the onions. ‘Why on earth would my sister recommend this to me?’ I pointedly asked the potatoes.
After dinner, out of a sense of fairness and decency, I decided to put the movie on again, and this time I’d actually watch it. I considered myself a fair and perceptive watcher of movies, and my rush to judgment in this case just didn’t feel right.
It was set in a world bereft of joy and colour, filled with the sadness inflicted on it by its former inhabitants – us. A sterile landscape of discarded consumer products and the enormous and quite recognizable capitalist enterprises that sold them dominated the skyline. It had obviously been a world run not by government, or by consensus of the people, but by the ever-perpetuating, self-serving, life-sucking avarice of the disingenuous corporate beast. A great catastrophe was evident, and it was – as in all stories – saying something critical about our own times.
After only a few minutes of real concentration, the main character had winkled himself easily under my skin. I laughed at his antics, I gushed at his personality, and I saddened at the knowledge that he was the last-surviving of all the automated waste-processing units. Were all the others like this one? I asked myself. His limited verbal skills did nothing to detract from his sweetness, his naïveté, his courage and determination – the most laudable of human characteristics. He was ostensibly all alone in this desolate place and it was clear enough that over all his solitary years he had picked up knowledge and memories and appreciations that were probably not a part of his original mandate. Somehow he had become more than his intended self.
Like most of us, he had one friend in the world – a cockroach. Cockroaches, of course, are supposed to be indestructible, so it’s no surprise that Disney picked one as WALL-E’s sidekick, and it’s no accident that they imbued it with the same characteristics of loyalty, obedience and congeniality that most human beings aspire to. The wretched moment in which WALL-E accidentally rolled over his little friend with his tracks and worried mightily that he might have killed it, and the obvious joy when he realized he was okay are precious in the extreme.
I really got into it when EVE came along. Her directive was ‘classified’, but of course we quickly learned that she was looking for evidence of photosynthesis on earth. She was strong, no-nonsense, almost militaristic, but she was also clearly and unequivocally feminine – a trait that continued to reveal as the plot moved along and as she grew closer to little WALL-E. I must say that the collages of EVE and WALL-E getting to know each other on earth, and then dancing beautifully together in outer space, were both very satisfying. I do hope I’m not giving too much away.
I watched the movie again after it was done, and again the following day. So much for its ‘silliness’ and my initial aversion to giving it a chance. It quickly took a place very high up in my list of favourites. After watching it the following day I got critical, watching it again for logical assessment, and once more to look for errors or inconsistencies. But I didn’t find any of that. What I found was an almost Shakespearean tale of love and triumph over evil and the ulterior, and an epic affirmation of the importance of determination in our world – indeed, to our world.
We all have a ‘directive’ – one thing that makes us tick. We all have the joy or sorrow of a thing that won’t leave us alone, and that fights us, every day, as we struggle in our quest for definition. EVE and WALL-E had mutually-fulfilling directives as WALL-E wallowed in the dirt that would ultimately bear the life that EVE sought. But, once they met, their true quest was love and their importance to each other. Their ‘work’ was not first or foremost anymore. It’s the same for us: we need to define our directives, but not necessarily be co-opted to them as reasons for living.
It’s something I learned so many years ago, in Sunday school, of all places. Love yourself and you’ll be able to love others. Love others and loving yourself will become easier. If we accept who we are, we can stop worrying so much about how we’re living and start enjoying the life we’ve been given.
So, tissue box in hand, blanket wrapped tightly around my sickly-cold feet, on this thundery night I watched it again – with all the appropriate responses. Afterwards I wrote down my assessment of WALL-E, the movie, on my iPad, and added useful little notes like cost, publisher, format etc, averring to myself out loud that I had, at last, started to do the long-awaited inventory of my life-long collection of movies.
When I grew up, it was books. Books described who we were. When someone died they could be defined based on what they had on their bookshelves. Today, it’s movies: my books and my movies will define me after I’m gone. What have I learned from my little entertainments – what have I taken from them along the way? That’s a question we must all ask ourselves. Not just do I like something, but why do I like it, and what does it do for me as a person?
In this missive I plan to ask myself that very question about all the movies in my eclectic little collection – all eight hundred plus of them. Hey, they’re a part of me, and some of them have been a part of me for a very long time. What better way to get to know me, and what better way for me to get that inventory done?
So, if you have some time, hop on board.
Comments are always welcome,