2015 has been a slow year for wide releases — in an impromptu Twitter poll of the year’s best, only "It Follows," which was bumped up from limited theatrical and VOD at the last minute — qualifies. But now there’s a great new movie everyone can watch, and it’s only 16 minutes long.
The movie is "World of Tomorrow," the latest from Oscar nominee, multiple Sundance Grand Jury Award winner and all-around genius Don Hertzfeldt, last seen warping the mind’s of America’s young with his demented "Simpsons" couch gag. At least stylistically, that turned out to be a harbinger of "World of Tomorrow," which is the longtime solo cel animator’s first all-digital effort. Not to worry: Hertzfeldt, whose work thrives on the disjuncture between his deliberately crude stick-figure characters and the horrible things that happen to them, hasn’t gone commercial. In some ways, in fact, "World" is less elaborate than the latter stages of Hertzfeldt’s "It’s Such a Beautiful Day Trilogy," or his jaw-dropping "The Meaning of Life," whose hand-drawn effects were unlikely anything you’ve ever seen. "World’s" backgrounds are often simple color washes, a visualization of the almost entirely virtual world the movie’s visitor from the future calls "The Outernet."
About that visitor: She’s Emily (voiced by layout artist Julia Pott, with some heavy digital processing), a third-generation clone from 200-plus years in the future who makes contact with four-year-old Emily Prime (Winona Mae, Hertzfeldt’s niece). Through their interactions, mechanical on one hand, childlike on the other, we learn that humanity’s future is one of virtual memories transplanted into identically reproduced bodies, watching screens of previous generations watching screens — a closed loop of sterile perfection. It’s a horrifying vision, the moreso when Hertzfeldt shows us the seams beginning to fray, as when future Emily tells her original that the cloning process is almost totally free of "muntal degenneration." The decay of the body is one of the things Hertzfeldt is best at conveying, his stick-figure characters somehow increasing our physical connection rather than inhibiting it, and it’s both terrifying and blackly humorous here.
Perhaps the best thing about being able to rent "World of Tomorrow" on Vimeo is that the $3.99 fee allows for 30 days of rewatching, which will allow you to soak in "World’s" at once transfixing and terrifying vision of things to come. As he suggests: Turn down the lights, turn up your coolest speakers, and make sure the HD is actually on.
More reviews of "World of Tomorrow"
Charles Bramesco, The Dissolve
Hertzfeldt shoehorns five features’ worth of complex philosophizing into the film’s svelte runtime, all without leaving the impression of being overstuffed or underdeveloped. He grapples with death and life and the things that happen afterward, floating lofty suggestions while simultaneously embracing the mystery of such weight topics. Endlessly rewatchtable, visually ravishing, densely theoretical, yet eminently quotable, "World of Tomorrow" is one of the finest achievements in sci-fi in recent memory.
David Ehrlich, Time Out New York
At the risk of perilously underselling it, "World of Tomorrow" might be one of the most satisfying shorts since Chris Marker’s 1962 landmark, "La Jetée" (a film with which Hertzfeldt’s shares some common DNA), and is almost certain to be the highlight of this year’s Sundance, full stop. If you leave the festival without seeing it, you’ve brought great embarrassment upon yourself and your loved ones.
Dan Schindel, Movie Mezzanine
If "Interstellar" was about "raging against the dying of the light," then this film is about sitting back and cackling with glib resignation. But there’s no irony in "World of Tomorrow’s" ultimate point: that the only things that are truly valuable, in the end, are our memories. That is, after all, what we as sentient beings are made of. No matter how we evolve, our emotional cores will persist.
Andrew Robertson, Eye for Film
There are shades of Philip K Dick ("I loved him as though we were originals"), Douglas Adams, Iain Banks, the matter of factness of "end of life procedures" speaks to a series of speculative traditions that starts and ends with human problems and human solutions caused and brought about by science. Even if that science is memory retrieval, alien foster care, transference of identity, the telephone – the textural paperness of the animation, the outernet, the notion of "disappearance into… safe infinity", there’s still the human element, and it is refined here, pure.
Michael C., The Film Experience
It’s a dark picture the film paints, but as usual, Hertzfeldt maintains boundless amusement at what a strange species we are, with our refusal to acknowledge our smallness in the universe, and the way we deliberately create technology which robs us of our humanity. All of it is delivered with Hertzfeldt’s distinct carnival of non-sequiturs, surreal tangents, and odd beauty that can make you laugh one second and bring you to the edge of tears the next.
Chris Evangelista, Cut Print Film
"World of Tomorrow" is as perfect a film as you can hope for. It’s beautiful, sorrowful, imaginative, and most of all, wholly unique. In short, it’s a lot like an individual’s own life experience. Seek this movie out; if you have to beg or borrow to get your hands on a copy, don’t hesitate to do so.
Reviews of "World of Tomorrow." I can’t be any more clear: you must experience "World of Tomorrow." Your life will be the better for it.
Daniel Olmos, Quiet Earth
It’s remarkable that with such a simple animation style Hertzfeldt creates such a complicated and mature piece of work, and it is a testament to his genius that even though this short film touches on a myriad of different subjects and is brimming with so many ideas it never once feels cluttered or messy. The dialogue is poetic and the atmosphere is melancholic, but never mournful, and Hertzfeldt manages to balance the existentialism with plenty of humor and humility.