On not sleeping and “The World of Tomorrow”
I don’t sleep easily anymore. It’s 3:45 am as I write this sentence. About 20 minutes ago I decided that if I wasn’t going to sleep easily tonight I might as well try watching The World of Tomorrow, a 16-minute animated short that I kept seeing pop up on my Netflix recommendations. I can safely say that it was a good decision. This is a rapid reaction to a very short movie, but I don’t think 2015 produced a better movie than this one.
The World of Tomorrow was created in its entirety by animator Don Hertzfeldt. His style is spare, as always. He has always used his stick-figures to make films that deep dive into absurdity. The cute style of his characters seem at odds with the black humor of his shorts. Here, however, there’s plenty of sincerity in the designs. The World of Tomorrow tells the story of two Emilys- one a young girl, the other her adult clone visiting from hundreds of years in the future. Clone Emily is continuing a tradition that repeats itself every generation: in the future, people with the means cheat death by preserving their memories and identities and passing them on to clones. She explains to her toddler of an ancestor, calmly and with little emotion, how the world will change.
The World of Tomorrow is most obviously a commentary on the inevitable digitization of everything. But its approach is deep and humanistic; this isn’t a screed against technology but a clear-eyed look into how things might be, for better or for worse, because despite its inevitability human beings fear death most of all.
To delve into the journey young and older Emily go on would be to deprive you of this film’s riches. There is a bounty packed into these 16 minutes. There is some of Hertzfeldt’s signature gallows humor, but he also celebrates childhood innocence, and imagination. The voice of young Emily is Winona Mae, Hertzfeldt’s niece, and the film at times whirls around what sounds like totally unprompted dialogue, building around a child’s world without an ounce of cynicism.
And Julia Pott, as clone Emily, spends most of the film speaking in functional, clinical monotone. But what a performance she gives. With the slightest alterations in her voice and timing she shifts from incredibly funny to heartbreaking.
The World of Tomorrow likely won’t help me get to sleep. It’s 4:15 am and my mind is buzzing. I don’t know if watching The World of Tomorrow at any other time would have led to the same impact. As I said, I don’t sleep easily. Since my grandmother died, sleep became difficult. Since my mom died, there are nights when it simply doesn’t happen. My mind buzzes with worry, with anxiety, with the total fog of grief.
But right now I feel good. I’m sitting at my computer, alone in the wee hours of the mourning, writing a record of myself. I imagine Hertzfeldt has done the same over the years, cataloguing his sadness with a paper and pencil. The World of Tomorrow about that feeling, about the deepest and most ineffable human needs. My mind buzzes right now with this film’s warmth, humanity, imagination, its understanding of sadness, and its love of the human spirit. I’m glad, for once, I that I’m awake at this hour.