People today seem to be fascinated with dystopias. Think The
Hunger Games and
Divergent film franchises. These stories, usually set in the not-so-distant
future, reflect our fears and the consequences of the excesses of contemporary
societies: over-population, mechanized living, environmental destruction,
violence and war, technology used to control and exploit people, health
problems, persecution of individualists, and authoritarian rulers.
Things are not that bad yet in the contemporary setting of Tomorrowland, but the
as people know it is clearly on the way. Director Brad Bird previously revealed
his take on the human condition with the animated film The Iron Giant (1999), an
anti-guns parable about the friendship between a self-sacrificing robot and a
boy who protects him. He maintains the same countercultural thrust in this film
where he challenges us to empathize with three unconventional rebels in a time
where there is little hope for the future of the human race.
It wasn't always this way. When Frank Walker (George Clooney) was a boy (Thomas
Robinson), the future was anticipated as a time of possibility, great
inventions, and adventures. At the 1964 World's Fair in New York, young Frank
enters his invention of a jet pack for flying in a contest for things that will
make the world a better place. The judge, Nix (Hugh Laurie), is not impressed,
but a mysterious girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) encourages him. She gives
him a pin that enables him to enter another dimension, known as Tomorrowland.
Years later in Cape Canaveral, high school student Casey Newton (Britt
Robertson) listens in class to dire facts about the inevitability of world war,
environment destruction, extreme weather, and more. But all she wants to know is
"Can we fix it?"
Casey is an optimist and believes that even small actions can change the world.
Her optimism is ingrained in her from an early age by her father by telling her
such metaphors as, “Two wolves are fighting. One wolf represents darkness and
despair. The other lightness and hope. Which one will win? The one you feed”.
She's been trying to sabotage the tearing down of a space platform where her
father (Tim McGraw), a NASA engineer, works. Arrested for trespassing, she
spends the night in jail. Among her things when she is released is a pin that
takes her to Tomorrowland.
Although her visit to the exciting world of the future is short, it changes her
life, and she sets
out to find out how to get back there. On her quest, she
meets Athena, who turns out to be a
robot charged with the mission of finding "dreamers." She takes Casey to Frank
Walker's house. He's now jaded and disillusioned and convinced that the world is
ending in a matter of days. But like Athena he recognizes a spark of something
special in Casey. She hasn't given up yet, and soon the three of them are on
their way to Tomorrowland to see if they can change the future.
They have a formidable adversary in Nix, the authoritarian leader of
Tomorrowland and his army of robots. He is absolutely certain that the way to
get people to change is to bombard them with predictions of the world's
collapse. In a passionate speech, he describes many characteristics of our world
today where people are consumed by greed and prone to constant distractions. Can
he scare people straight or is his mindset creating a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Tomorrowland asks a central spiritual question: What is needed for the great
work of repairing the world? And to what extent are our beliefs creating our
At the heart and soul of the film is a bold affirmation of imagination as the
spiritual force that can save civilization. Here the optimistic girl, the robot
who is able to override her programming, and the boy-genius turned adult
inventor discover that the way to avert the impending disaster requires both a
change of heart and a change of mind. They want others, especially young people,
to join them, starting with the belief that transformation is possible.
“Tomorrowland” is an indictment of apathy and cynicism so pointed it puts those
into a character’s mouth and proceeds to eloquently rip apart our
society’s fascination with apocalypse and dystopia while global calamities loom.
In a way, this is a subversive film in the guise of a summer blockbuster. It
pedals the idea hope and inspiration aren’t just words for greeting cards, but
can actually make a tangible impact on this dusty old world of ours.
It is a sentiment worth rallying around. The question then becomes, is this
movie the most effective vehicle we have for conveying this sentiment. To answer
a question with a question: maybe?
Most importantly, it’s a rare piece of family entertainment that warrants a
discussion afterwards. Given the intellectually disposable nature of most summer
entertainments, that’s the film’s innate reason for hope.