Tomorrowland, the drive to Create and the Doom of the World

My place is of the sun and this place is of the dark
I do not feel the romance I do not catch the spark
My place is of the sun and this place is of the dark
(By grace, my sight grows stronger and I will not
be a pawn for the Prince of Darkness any longer) — Indigo Girls

doomsdayclock

I saw the film Tomorrowland today, and like many films it got me thinking.

I think all of us has an innate desire to create something. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something artistic or meaningful. We just like to occupy ourselves with the act of creation – be it painting or sewing or sculpting or music or architecture or cataloging plants in our backyard. Something, anything that is a thousand miles away from the other occupation we spend a lot of time on: destruction.

I have had this notion in the back of my mind now for a number of years, and this movie really kinda dragged that notion out into the light. There have already been a number of articles that decry the movie as a failure and list the reasons why it is and dismiss it as another “oh, it could’ve been so much better…” efforts at being a summer blockbuster movie.

But I think they miss the point.

wrist-radioIn 1946, the Dick Tracy comic strip introduced the now iconic 2-way wrist radio, which in the 60’s would be upgraded to a 2-way radio/video wrist unit. We have people wearing this tech today. A lot of science fiction has introduced ideas or fantasy that have actually become a reality. This is the major theme of Tomorrowland, and its something I’ve spoken with friends about – the notion that we are creating our reality.

There’s a wonderful visual moment that illustrates this in the film – George Clooney’s doomsday clock is fixed at 100% certainty of the world ending, until someone offers up that chestnut we hear time and time again in countless other stories: “But we make our own destiny, don’t we?” And then, there’s a flicker and the clock drops a fraction of a percentage point and the certain doom of the world isn’t so certain anymore – there’s a chance, however slight, that it can be changed or saved.

Is the premise behind the film new or original? No – not by a long shot. But why are so many quick to dismiss it as a failure?

There have been quite a few “popular” book and movie franchises of late that espouse a dystopian future that can only be salvaged or redeemed by a single young/teenage hero – or to put it more accurately, heroine. Take the Hunger Games, or the Divergent books or Twilight for example. There are others too that have a young male protagonist, i.e. The Giver or The Maze Runner… so when an article wags a finger at Brad Bird’s Randian exceptionalism – what makes these stories any different? Because they made many more millions on their opening weekend? Or is the idea that not everyone is special really that hard to swallow unless its presented in completely “that will never happen” context?

When I was younger, in the late sixties and early seventies, when I was in grade school – there was this very real sense that you couldn’t do everything. I guess I was part of that baby boomer set that wasn’t included in the “Me Generation”; the ‘everyone’s special’ generation. What I remember teachers telling me was, find the one thing you are good at and be the best that you can be… but to also recognize the fact that someone somewhere was going to be better at it. That was the reality. I liked playing sports as a kid… but I was never going to be Johnny Bench. I liked to draw, but I was never going to be Frank Frazetta – and that isn’t to say I couldn’t have been better than them, but that it was OK and natural and perfectly fine if I wasn’t.

The notion that some people were going to be better at something or have more than me held just the same weight as know that there were others out that that were going to have it worse than me. The idea that there were some individuals that were more exceptional than me seemed natural – part of just how the world worked.

Every single film of this type you watch is about one or a few exceptional characters. Watching a film about a guy or gal that gets up, goes to work and does their job doesn’t sell tickets. Heroes are supposed to be exceptional – chosen. So, don’t blame the mono-myth because you felt let down about a story or a film. Just deal with the fact that you are not the exceptional one and enjoy it for what it is: entertainment.

Maybe I should be outraged by that notion, it certainly seems that a lot of people are. The article I point to in the link above: 5 Mistakes That Made Disney’s ‘Tomorrowland’ a Movie Flop points out that the idea seems to be a strange one to put forth in a movie that is ‘aimed at children’. The thing is – I don’t think this movie is for children. Maybe that idea got fostered because it’s  Disney film – or because it was marketed that way. When I saw the film the audience did have quite a few young children in it. And I have to think that they must’ve been confused by it because there was very little in that was for children.

It’s a very adult movie about trying to change the way we think about the future — the future we are creating right at this very moment.

I love that this article was written in the first place. It has its merits. It also brings up some really good arguments about the kinds of media we gobble up when we go to the movies.

Honestly, the future presented in Tomorrowland isn’t any darker than that of Katniss Everdeen or any number of other dark and foreboding possible futures. I think what’s more interesting about Tomorrowland is that it questions the glut of gloom and doom scenarios that have peppered our popular culture and literature since man first put pen to paper.

Why are we spending so much time and energy creating media and entertainment that explores what will happen when the world is destroyed or might be destroyed or saving it from being destroyed? Why aren’t we directing all of that energy at building a better one?

Believe me, I will read and devour and sit in the dark and watch a good epic thrill ride about the end of the world and those people who try to out run a giant tidal wave or fight off a herd of rampaging freshly cloned dinosaurs or men and women in colorful tights fighting off an army of murderbots… just like anyone, I am captivated by the idea of the world ending.

I guess because its action-packed and thrilling subject – and you can monetize that. People will gobble it up because – on a subconscious level when you are reading about a world like that, or playing through it in a game or watching it on the movie screen – there is the thought: “Well, that will never happen to me.”

And when you present media or entertainment about a world where there isn’t want or need or danger or destruction — well, that’s really kind of boring isn’t? What’s to strive for if all of your needs are met? A bright and wonderful future is something you should probably be very suspicious of – according to science fiction anyway. There’s always some sinister force at work behind the scenes. I guess we are so conditioned and trained to believe the idea that Utopia is something that cannot be achieved… we are on a one-way road to destruction so let’s just enjoy the ride.

The second point in the article, that the plot was weak, is itself a weak point. The article points out – very correctly, that this is a story we’ve seen a billion times before – but that isn’t the film’s fault, or the writers or the director’s… it’s ours. We keep seeing this type of story over and over and over… because that is what sells tickets. I thought the premise – that the future was and is supposed to be Utopian – kind of refreshing. Of course, something has to go wrong and that future becomes perverted and dark and dangerous, but hey… again. That’s what sells tickets. So really – what’s the complaint?

The third point of the article is just simply childish pouting — where’s my special effects? Where’s my expansive universe? Why don’t I get to see more guys with jet packs and so on and so on… Forget the reality of the budget constraints that prevent that sort of thing in film making – or the that even when you do spend all of your time in a setting that is all tricked out with CGI and special effects, it doesn’t guarantee its going to be believable or that people will be satisfied with it – the last two Matrix films anyone? Revenge of the Sith?

Great stories are about character – not setting or effects. I felt this film did the same thing that Big Hero Six did… but, that’s just my opinion.

The fourth point in the article again misses the point of the film entirely. What, they were supposed to wrap everything up in a neat and tidy bow for you? That the doors to Tomorrowland would just be opened up to everyone? Maybe the notion they are putting forth is – you have to earn it. You have to work for it. It’s not just something for everyone because honestly, not everyone is working for it. Did you not noticed that the golden tickets, or in the case the World’s Fair pins were being given to people who were working at their talents? But I guess that’s the problem with the whole exceptionalism thing again. You can’t have just a few exceptional people. Everyone has to be exceptional. Otherwise… that would be a painful truth right? It’s just not fair.

What is it that Wesley says in the Princess Bride? Oh yeah…

Wesley

We are, in a very real sense, selling ourselves the Doom of the World. And business is booming.

The fifth point of the article lays at the feet of this film something I don’t think it deserves. The future of films and blockbusters does not rest on whether or not this film is considered a financial success. Seriously? The future of original scripts and films is in jeopardy because this film didn’t make 600 trillion dollars its opening weekend? I guess we’ll just forget about Cloud Atlas or Jupiter Ascending or any other number of films that were hyped and yet, failed to deliver a big pay day.

I’ll say it again – I think this film did what it was supposed to – just like Big Hero Six. At the end you had a very human moment about the value and importance of love and sacrifice. That the bright future we all want can be achieved, that the doom and gloom of the world’s end will not happen… because someone – exceptional or not – will stand up and do what needs to be done.

Maybe that’s too optimistic, maybe its too cheesy. In my opinion, we need more films about brighter futures and the world being better and not being burnt to a cinder or overrun by fascist military regimes or iron-fisted governments that want to catalog and use us to keep the machines of industry from grinding to a halt.

So, what Tomorrowland explored for me was this very real idea that we are creating our own reality. That all of the ugly things going on in the world is something we create out of our collective perception. We flood our televisions and news sites and talk radio with so much noise about war and death, hate speech, vitriolic speeches of one group about another – poisoning our minds and hearts with a steady diet of bad news.

I really liked the idea that all of that is something we are creating – and that its something we can and should change. Instead of monetizing and selling bad news – package good instead. We sent men to the moon in the late sixties. We are knocking on the door of space exploration, contemplating colonies on other planets – expanding our future. That was our Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland didn’t shut its doors to us… we turned away from those doors ourselves, in favor of fossil fuels, resource wars and exploitation of our fellow man — just to name a few of the distractions that sucked all of the creative drive out of the space program and others that seek to better mankind, not just lead it into yet another year of war, hate and fear.

Sure, that’s simplifying things – I recognize that. And I could be wrong about a lot of things I’ve put forth in this little bit of writing.

But one thing I am certain of — I do not feel the romance or catch the spark of a gloomy and destructive future.

We are not creatures of darkness… our place is of the sun.

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