Over a decade ago, in 2008, Pixar released a movie titled Wall-E. This futuristic film served as a cautionary tale for all of us who were dazzled by it at the time. After Wall-E (a garbage compactor robot) finds a plant, he travels into space aboard the Axiom ship and goes on a mission to protect the plant and return humans to earth. Pixar’s Wall-E painted a grim vision of our future, but how much of it was accurate? There are some things he predicted right (and wrong) about the future.
The latest mission of SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space company, confirmed a suspicion we’ve had for a long time: the Pixar movie is the science fiction movie that best predicted our future.
Broadly speaking: self-driving cars, humans glued to the screens of their devices, garbage everywhere, a company that rules the whole world. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Either you have just seen an animated movie or you have simply observed the world around us. Debuting at a time when the economy hit its lowest point since the Great Depression, the dystopian society surrounding the worker robot spooked many with its apprehensive predictions.
The film shows an Earth that became uninhabitable by climate change, with the last humans alive, obese space tourists who communicate only through video calls and rely on meal replacement shakes for sustenance. There are unsettling similarities to much of our reality today, with extreme weather events increasing in frequency, obesity rates skyrocketing, Zoom calls taking over our lives, and the rise of meal replacement companies like Soylent and Huel.
The characters’ ship is called the Axiom and this is where SpaceX comes into play. The company’s April 8 launch carried three tourists to the International Space Station for a 12-day trip, and was dubbed “Axiom Mission 1″—surely no fluke.
WALL-E is apparently the story of two robots who fall in love. But it is also a fable about the traps of consumption and technology addiction. “Usually I enjoy being right, but not in this case. I didn’t want to be right about so many things in this movie,” WALL-E writer-director Andrew Stanton explained in this Bloomberg article.
The film begins with the garbage cleaning robot wandering through a post-apocalyptic and abandoned Earth. Intermittently, he has to seek shelter when storms hit. That reflects reality: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned last year that extreme weather events that used to happen just once a decade now occur every three years.
One company to rule them all
In the film’s narrative, climate change is caused by rampant overconsumption. The blame falls squarely at the feet of one company, the monopolist Buy’N’Large. It bears more than a passing resemblance to Amazon, which is expected to post sales of more than $500 billion this year, and controls about 40% of the West’s e-commerce market. The Seattle-based company was the inspiration for Stanton even 15 years ago.
There are more parallels with Amazon and its founder Jeff Bezos. Buy’N’Large also operates the spaceship from the film; Meanwhile, Bezos owns Blue Origin, a rocket company that also offers trips for space tourists.
But it was another tech billionaire who helped Stanton and his writing team develop their vision for the direction of humanity’s journey: Steve Jobs. The Apple co-founder was also CEO of Pixar, spending half the work week at the company’s headquarters in Emeryville, at the gates of Silicon Valley. That meant Stanton saw the iPhone a year before it was released in 2007. He was at a party where Jobs couldn’t help but show off the device. “I think his ego got the better of him,” Stanton said.
In the film, the skyscrapers are replaced by towering mountains of garbage that reach higher than the clouds. Insects are considered a rarity since the natural resources needed to feed them have almost disappeared. Wall-E spends his days condensing the garbage piles while adding to the growing mountains of debris. Garbage disposal is already a major problem in our world, with Americans alone generating more than 1,500 pounds of garbage per person per year.
It’s no secret that the years of handwritten letters and phone calls are almost over, replaced by abbreviated text messages that barely resemble the actual use of the language. The obese humans who first consumed the garbage that started the Wall-E robot have taken this trend to the next level. Electric and autonomous cars transport the obese population, equipped with a screen that obstructs the passenger’s line of sight. Dependent passengers sit and cruise the streets while drinking huge “Buy ‘n Large” bottles. The humans in the film are at the will of the mass production corporation as they spend their days watching B ‘n L commercials and consuming B ‘n L products.
In the real world, the age of smartphones is very close, pushing users’ eyes into the trenches of their devices. Social media, web browsing, Pokémon Go, and everything else people want is at their fingertips in seconds. It seems like a wonderful thing, but meanwhile, the fine line between reality and technological fiction continues to blur. And movies like Wall-E end up predicting everything that’s going on.