I have a thing with Damon Lindelof and his mystical sci-fi bullsh*t, in that Damon Lindelof and his mystical sci-fi bullsh*t keeps ruining otherwise interesting ideas (see also: Lost, Cowboys & Aliens, Prometheus, World War Z, Star Trek Into Darkness). Credit where credit is due, The Leftovers is excellent, but then Lost’s first season was really good too. That train only derailed later, so we’ll wait and see with The Leftovers. Anyway, with Lindelof there is always the sense of multiple stories occurring at once, and they’re not all equally interesting. Even talented directors like JJ Abrams can’t overcome this narrative personality disorder, and in Tomorrowland director Brad Bird, also very talented, falls victim to Lindelof’s mystical sci-fi bullsh*t.
First of all, yes, this is an advertisement for the least popular section of the Disney parks—you know, the one you go to for the restrooms because it’s likeliest to have the shortest lines. When this project was first announced in mystery box style, I wondered if maybe it was the long-awaited biopic on Walt Disney. Well it isn’t, but it would have been much better if it was. Not having George Clooney play Walt Disney is a total waste of a Clooney/Disney marriage. Instead, Clooney stars as Frank, a guy who would really like these kids today with their cynicism and their smartphones to get off his lawn. Frank meets Casey, a Young Person Of Indeterminate Age, and together they try to save Tomorrowland, a place that exists somewhere.
So much is unclear in Tomorrowland, like where, for instance, Tomorrowland is. The movie is very clear that people MADE Tomorrowland, they didn’t discover it, so it has to be somewhere in physical space. But WHERE? The future? An alternate dimension? IN OUR MINDS? It’s never clear. Not understanding the laws governing a fantastical universe is immediately a problem—it hinders our ability to accept the internal logic of the narrative and to feel that this place and these people are real and matter. Why worry about the outcome when we’ve never bought into the premise? Similarly, Casey, is played by Britt Robertson, who is twenty-five and looks every minute of it. Casey should clearly be A Child, but Robertson is very much Not A Child. It’s nothing against Robertson’s acting, which is spot-on, or the characterization of Casey, who is a welcome antidote to the “very special boy” trope Disney loves so much. It’s just that Robertson is transparently too old for the role—it’s bad casting.
But the biggest problem for Tomorrowland is that its message, which is supposed to be about hope and optimism, is profoundly co-opted by its own failed narrative. The intelligentsia responsible for Tommorrowland create amazing things that could fundamentally improve life on earth, and yet they WON’T SHARE. The accidental fascism of superhero movies comes up a lot, but the nightmare vision of a highly advanced society that actively and knowingly does not contribute to the improvement of real people’s lives, while also lamenting the state of those people’s lives, is far more troubling. The movie is arguing against buying into a dystopic future—by showing us a dystopic future! Tomorrowland is less an idealized place of endless creation and invention, and more a prison for creations and inventions.
A movie about imagining a less cynical future is also trying to get us to go to a theme park, the most cynical endeavor there is. A story about how a belief in a dystopian future becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy is about a dystopian future. Tomorrowland should be a perfect counterpoint to Earth, a place Casey visits that inspires her to double-down on her optimistic belief in positive thinking, and that hope is the most important natural resource. But instead Tomorrowland is just another beleaguered dystopia, thrown into chaos by an evil governor. It’s like Panem, without the organized child murder. There’s a clear narrative directive—everyone stop being so cynical—but the actualization of that message is sloppy and ill-defined. In the end, what should be uplifting and inspire a generation of kids into scientific exploration is just more mystical sci-fi bullsh*t that adds up to nothing, except, hopefully, a desire to visit a theme park.
Attached - George and Amal arriving in Tokyo yesterday.