The Green Irony of Wall-E at the Movie Theaters


mini meal

I got a chance to see Wall-E for the second time yesterday when my kids’ summer rec program went on a field trip to the movies. We saw the movie when it first came out. I resisted the urge to find all the green messages in it because I just wanted to enjoy a movie with my kids. But this time, my kids were sitting with their friends, and I saw things in the second viewing that I did not see in the first.

If you don’t know anything about the movie – here’s the premise. Earth has been abandoned for 700 years because it has become nothing but a toxic trash dump. There was an effort to clean it up with robots, but eventually that effort was deemed pointless. The robots that were built to do the cleaning were all (I assume) turned off, and the last humans took off for space. But one robot survived – Wall-E. For 700 hundred years he has been building skyscrapers out of blocks of garbage.

Sounds gruesome and not so much like a kids’ movie, but it’s actually done very well with humor and charm. The very opening scene, however, is a bit chilling from an environmental perspective. The camera pans in on what can be taken as NYC with its tall buildings and even taller trash sckyscrapers. As it is panning in, it passes by wind turbines that are barely moving and shut down nuclear power plants. Garbage is all around them.

There is a strong sense of failure. The wind turbines didn’t save the earth. Nuclear power didn’t save the earth. Why? Because humans couldn’t stop consuming and generating so much trash that it eventually took over the world. At least this is the message that I took away.

Now, here comes the irony. The amount of trash that is generated during a single viewing of any movie at a theater is great. Soda cups, popcorn bags, and candy boxes are routinely tossed into a trashcan at the back of the theater and by the end of the day, a theater has collected bags upon bags of trash.

At the end of the movie, one of the college aged chaperones stood up and yelled to the kids – “okay kids now go out and save the world.” That was followed by another chaperone saying, “Pick up all your trash and make sure it gets put in the trashcan.” As the kids all filed out of the theater throwing out their trash, I couldn’t help but wish I had had this example way back when I was teaching irony to my high school English students. This was a perfect example of situational irony!

My family loves going to the movies. We’re frequently there on opening day for something the kids have been excited to see. But over the past few months, I’ve become increasingly uneasy with the whole trash problem of the going to the theater.

What’s the solution? We don’t want to stop going to the movies. Should we sneak in our own beverages in reusable bottles and snacks in durable containers? Theaters are very clear that they don’t want you to bring in your own food. And for years I’ve respected that and bought my snacks from the ridiculously priced concession stand.

But now it’s not a money thing – it’s an environmental thing.

Here’s what I would like to see. I would like to see some company create durable, resusable cups with lids for fountain style sodas that are clearly marked with the amount they can hold. Find the common sizes that fountain softdrinks are offered in at movie theaters (and convenience stores), and create a line of cups based off of that. Do the same with some sort of container to hold popcorn, too.

Then I would like to see the movie theaters allow their customers to bring these in to be filled for their drinks and snacks instead of putting them in disposables.

I don’t know how to solve the candy problem, but much of the candy comes in boxes that can be recycled. People could just resolve to take their candy boxes home with them and put them in their own personal recycling.

This would be such a small change but have such a huge effect. It would save tons of trash. It would also save the theaters money, too.

What do you think? Do you think theaters would go for the idea? Do you think people would come on board? Would you?

Creative Commons License photo credit: naydeeyah

    • Melissa
    • July 19th, 2008

    we’re lucky because we have a drive-in theater near us. It’s cheaper ($6.50 each, and you see two movies!) and they don’t make any effort to prevent you from being your own snacks…so we do!

    • Despairing
    • July 19th, 2008

    I’ve heard about what goes on in an American drive-in theater, but eating each other?? :p

    Look at it this way Robin: at a full screening there will be a couple of hundred people (depending on the size of the cinema). That’s a couple of hundred TV’s switched off, a couple of hundred computers switched off, a couple of hundred lightbulbs switched off….

    • Robin Shreeves
    • July 21st, 2008

    Melissa – we don’t have any drive ins left around here. That would be fun, though, and much less expensive

    Despairing – You’re assuming that everyone shuts down when they leave the house. That isn’t always the case – especially with computers.

    But you do have a point, they will be less energy used in their homes when they are gone.

    • Allison
    • July 21st, 2008

    I have always snuck in my own food. I can’t eat the popcorn there it makes me sick and it’s outrageously expensive. I bring in Raisenettes and candy for my kids and drinks too. I don’t feel bad, my husband buys all his goodies (popcorn, candy and soda) there for $15. 15 times 4 plus movie tix. That’s a lot of money. But you know I’m not gonna do it just because it saves money I will make efforts to bring more homemade instead of buying it somewhere else.
    It is not against the law, from my knowledge, to sneak food in. It is the theatres policy so they can make more money. Theme parks do it too. But don’t get me started on the grotesque food served there.

    • Robin Shreeves
    • July 21st, 2008

    Allison – You're such a rebel. I am such a rule follower! I rarely bring my own candy. My mom put huge bags of m&m's and milk duds in the boys' Christmas stockings so I did take them to the movies last Jan. But for the most part, I buy it from the theater.

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