Unless you’ve been living in an underground bunker for fifteen years, you’ve seen Don Hertzfeldt’s Rejected (If you have been living in an underground bunker for fifteen years, use that “Google thing” to look up something called “9/11”).
Although Rejected is certainly Hertzfeldt’s most famous work, he’s been steadily making animated films since his art school days, producing fun pieces like Genre and Billy’s Balloon, along with more emotional ones like Lily and Jim and It’s Such a Beautiful Day.
His more recent work includes the latter films, both of which didn’t strike me. Hertzfeldt has always been an artist with something to say, and I respect his passion for these films, but his work with absurd humor is what endears him to me. In short, I missed the funny Don Hertzfeldt.
Since Rejected, World of Tomorrow is Hertzfeldt’s best blend of social commentary and bleak, absurd humor and it just may be his masterpiece.
The short film is a look into a futuristic society where many present-day science fiction elements have become commonplace, such as planetary colonization, human cloning, artificial intelligence and time travel. But unlike most sci-fi films, World of Tomorrow isn’t focused on how technology will destroy us or ruin our lives. Instead, we get a vision of humanity that simply faces problems and struggles that are mostly alien to us. Hertzfeldt seems to be echoing the poet laureate Dark Helmet, stating, “Fuck! Even in the future nothing works!”
While Hertzfeldt has fun with these futuristic elements, what anchors the story is the “interaction of Emilys.” Transmitting a signal from this future world, a clone Emily contacts her original form as a toddler and brings her to clone Emily’s timeline.
This interaction, between a somewhat mentally- and emotionally-deficient adult (due to cloning degradation) and a naïve and spontaneous child produces a lot of humor as well as insight. Watching the film, it seems amazing how naturally Hertzfeldt got his child actress to perform, until you find out he actually recorded his four-year-old niece while playing and then worked her dialogue into the film’s story. The result is one of the most “child-like” children you’ve ever seen onscreen.
Another notable aspect of World of Tomorrow is Hertzfeldt’s use of digital technology. If you’re familiar with his work, you’ll know he loves ink, paint and film opposed to anything digital, but for this film he opted to create everything within a computer to help reflect the subject matter, utilizing Photoshop and Final Cut Pro. Search for a few images from the film and you’ll see the result is nothing short of gorgeous.
While I don’t want to give away many further plot details or jokes because they are far too good to spoil, I do feel the need to repeat a portion of clone Emily’s final speech to her young counterpart because it’s profound and beautiful:
“Do not lose time on daily trivialities. Do not dwell on petty
detail. For all of these things melt away and drift apart within
the obscure traffic of time. Live well and live broadly. You are
alive and living now. Now is the envy of all of the dead.”
World of Tomorrow is available to rent on Vimeo On Demand for four bucks. It might seem a little steep for a short film, but I guarantee it’s worth it. I hope you enjoy your trip to the future.
But seriously, what a happy day it iiiiiisss.