1 February 2016 | StevePulaski
Embrace the immediate
Don Hertzfeldt's seventeen-minute animated short World of Tomorrow, one of the Academy Awards' Best Animated Short frontrunners this year, does an amazing job of examining the flaw that most of us have as people and that's an inability to be satisfied or truly content with the present. We do not appreciate the present until it is the distant or the very-recent past, depending on how we deem the quality of our current situation. We look to the future as a relief or even a catalyst of the conditions we're currently facing, and we struggle to objectively define "self," especially in the age of the internet, where selves can be socially constructed or constructed in the lieu of the moment.
I realize I've proposed some lofty existentialist ideas with that first paragraph, but Hertzfeldt's beautifully detailed and immaculately animated short film effectively make your mind cycle through a whirlwind of feelings and thoughts about the human condition. The premise concerns a four-year-old girl named Emily Prime (voiced by Hertzfeldt's four-year-old niece Winona Mae, who was recorded while playing and drawing in order to generate natural dialog for the short), who has the typical wide-eyed wisdom and wonder that four-year-old girls have. Her days consist of playing with her precious cars, eating lunch, and wandering off to each adventure; her perceptions of happiness and sadness are heavily dichotomous and immediate. She is never both at the same time, and ostensibly never trying to avoid one or minimize another. Her moods are changing in the most obvious manner, but she's never one way for too long. She helps embody most of us in the way that we're occupied with life's trivialities and daily events.
One day, while playing with her cars, she's visited by an older Emily Prime (voiced by Julia Pott) via a transmission on a machine. This Emily is a third-generation clone broadcasting and communicating to Emily from two-hundred and twenty-seven years into the future. Older Emily explains to her younger, more idealistic self the cloning process, and how there are various methods for cloning; the wealthy can afford a safer process that permits time travel and such, successfully achieving immortality into adulthood, while the poorer members of society must settle for riskier cloning methods that could result in the very opposite - instant death.
This Emily takes her younger self on a journey through her life, which has seen her fall in love with rocks, robots, and eventually a fellow clone, who, because of his finances, had to settle for a less safe process. In addition, she walks younger Emily through a series of commonplace situations and features of the modern day, including a museum that houses a brainless human in a clear stasis tube where passersby observe him in a passive state while he grows older and withers before dying at 72.
In this futuristic utopia, memories are the most sacred part of the human experience, and increasing technological advances have allowed memories to be kept in small, black cubes in order to be stored for eternity - a process also afforded by society's most wealthy - or to be put on display in museums for humans to observe. These museums serve as the last piece of "real life" that humans can experience; most of the time, humans observe history, the day's events, and enjoy conversations with people through screens, severely limiting the idea of "reality."
World of Tomorrow accomplishes so much visually and thematically that it's stunning to note how short this film is, let alone how quickly it races past. Its ideas are dense and detailed, and its articulation so brisk and elaborate that it immediately warrants multiple viewings. At the heart of its depictions of technology and constant progress is a simple demand to all those living right now and that is "live." "You are the envy of the dead," Emily's clone states, with her echoing, monotone voice that has come with years of stagnant disillusionment and the inability to feel significantly. Often we cannot see the truth in that statement because, circumventing to what I said earlier, we are so caught up in the optimism and the aura of the future or the nostalgia for the past that we rarely observe what is occurring in the present.
Emily's clone states that day-to-day life's trivialities and benign occurrences are always irrelevant, and it's living which is the most sacred gift of all. The conception of reality, in addition, is another thing that has greatly been disturbed by internet (the world that Emily's clone shows her is called "the outernet," according to her). The ability to see and discern history through a few mouse-clicks and make far-away places seem closer have gone on to make what was closest to us more distant. Emily's clone shows this through her tired and dreary persona; she and her peers have been so accustomed to living life by finding multiple different channels and locations to pursue and attempting to be everywhere and do everything at once, that personal relationships, human connection, and love have all suffered as a result. The close becomes the distant and the distant becomes the immediately accessible.
World of Tomorrow's ideas are so expertly communicated that it's unfortunate how the genius animation and look behind it finds itself a secondary feature. The art design and illustration, all handled by Pott, as well, communicates a beautiful, harmonious relationship between the old, traditionalist style of animation coupled with the new, more experimental side that shows that 2D animation can still exercise immense creativity and visual possibilities on a totally different playing field than its counterpart. The result, coupled with dense themes and a true zest to define the world we're currently inhabiting, make World of Tomorrow such a masterwork of animation.
Voiced by: Julia Pott and Winona Mae. Directed by: Don Hertzfeldt.