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Thinking about WALL-E

March 25, 2009

Dear Members of Brooks College:

Henry, Douglas V. high res (w x h, 0 KB)

Along with many of you I thoroughly enjoyed Saturday evening's screening of WALL-E on the college quad.  Pixar has made some fascinating films in recent years, stretching the bounds of what computer-aided animation can accomplish.

Beyond the sheer artfulness involved in making a film such as WALL-E, I was struck by two questions that it raised.  I invite you into a continuing conversation about these issues.  Here they are:

How does one fall prey to the age-old vice of sloth?

The human passengers aboard the Axiom were slothful, were they not?  Yet were they not more than merely lazy?  Our wise and thoughtful medieval forebears used the term acedia to denote what we too often reduce merely to laziness.  Think about the Axiom's passengers.  They were not only slothful in the sense of being lazy.  They also succumbed to the more expansive and life-destroying vice of acedia, understood as the loss of aspiration for great things.  They were apathetic and unable to care about the things that matter.

How did they get to be in such a condition?  What things did they do--or not do--that led to a lack-luster, mind-numbing, and risk-averse existence?  What might we learn from the mistakes that the filmmaker attributes to them?

How might one resist or recover from the dangers of sloth?

WALL-E struck me as less than wholly satisfactory in its resolution of the problem of acedia.  The most charitable interpretation I can offer is that newfound or renewed understanding, coupled with the heroic role models of WALL-E and EVE, shook the Captain and the other passengers out of their tepid, half-dead, and pointless wandering through deep space.

Whether or not something like that gets the movie aright, it seems to me that both of these components--understanding and outside help--are usually needed to recover from acedia.  We have to remember or learn that we are made by God for great things.  However, knowing that profound truth is sometimes insufficient to change our slothful ways.  For this reason the encouragement, example, and help of friends is so crucially important.  What else is involved?  By what other means can we act wisely in these regards and lend assistance to each other?  Beyond all else, Christians embrace the knowledge and the help of friendship that are entailed by charity--the very gift of friendship with God.

I hope that you will join me, so encouraged, in steering clear of the allied temptations of laziness, sloth, and despair, all of which are bound up in acedia.  To that end, should we not live by the light of Scripture?  Galatians 6:9 enjoins us, "Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart."

All the best,

henry signature

Douglas Henry

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Douglas V. Henry
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Honors College
Master, Brooks Residential College
Baylor University