In 2015, Don Hertzfeldt created World of Tomorrow, a short film following a moment in the life (or, rather, lives) of an innocent young girl named Emily Prime, and her third-generation clone that visits her from 227 years in the future in order to take one of her memories. Earth in this future is going to be destroyed by a meteoroid, you see, and the cloned Emily will use this memory as a source of comfort. It’s heady stuff, a babble of sublime sci-fi leaning intellectualism and melancholic non-sequiturs that takes place in the stars.
Hertzfeldt’s sequel may lose the interstellar but it keeps hold of the stellar, returning to the series’ staggering knack for peeling away each layer of the fragile and erratic human psyche. In other words, Hertzfeldt gets into the heads of his protagonists and lays bare the rusty cogs that make them tick. In World of Tomorrow 2: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts, that sentiment is taken literally, as Emily (still voiced with endearing naivety by Winona Mae) plummets into the mind of ‘an incomplete backup copy’ of her ‘third generation clone’.
Two Personalities For The Price Of One
They say that there are more synapses in the brain than stars in the observable universe, and here it proves true: World of Tomorrow 2 is bigger, longer (at a massive 22 minutes), and displays even more visual flair. Abstract vistas shift with each stick figure’s movements, clouds of smoke shudder and rotate, and red specks spin and distort the screen akin to Interstellar’s wormhole effect.
Traversing this aesthetic wonderland, Emily Prime now takes a much more proactive role in proceedings. Her visitor (the aforementioned hack-job cloned Emily, emblazoned with a ‘6’ on her forehead to label her identity) wishes to assume the personality and memories of Emily Prime herself, as her intended role (to take the identity of a third-generation Emily) is rendered void due to Earth’s destruction. With the help of a machine, Emily Prime goes all Inside Out, and wanders through this clone’s thoughts via metaphorical landscapes.
There’s the ‘Bog of Realism’, where Emily 6’s glimmer of hopes are buried. Emily Prime fishes one out, but is immediately urged to put it back. Defeatism literally swamps this backup clone’s thoughts; you get the impression, if you didn’t from his other shorts, that Hertzfeldt’s worldview is one of existential pessimism.
Or perhaps not: Emily Prime and her candid optimism is the perfect foil for Emily 6’s nihilistic outlook. To save the backup clone from short-circuiting herself, Prime transports the two of them into her own mind – valleys of buried shards of memories are replaced by an excursion into Triangle Land; the contrast is potent.
Accompanied by the classical thrum of music (played on piano by Hertzfeldt himself), World of Tomorrow 2 musters up and sustains an overwhelming catharsis, as the claustrophobic, nostalgic fatalism of Emily 6’s mind fades away. Perhaps Emily 6 is right to lust after Emily Prime’s mind after all? World of Tomorrow 2 has other ideas.
And by ‘other ideas’, I mean ‘a ton of other ideas’. Don’t let the ’short film’ tag deceive you; World of Tomorrow 2 packs enough inconceivably imagined concepts into its 22-minute runtime to make any other feature-length film blush. There’s the contrast between the mind of a child and a world-weary adult, sure, but statements are made on identity politics, and on the futility of holding on to memories (and, in turn, the past).
Laughter Is The Best Medicine
It sounds heavy, but Hertzfeldt balances the melancholy with a sense of humour that’s both playful and painful. The non-sequiturial comedy that defined his Oscar-nominated early-2000s Rejected is at play here without ever feeling forceful, Winona Mae injecting her Emily Prime with an improvisational tone as she meanders through her description of Triangle Land. The randomness and constant distractions have a point: this is the child’s imagination in full force.
There’s scathing one-liners too: ‘He had the haircut of a man who had seriously misinterpreted himself’, for instance. These belong to Emily 6’s mind, however, and the message is clear: 6 and Prime are different in every way. This is no doubt kept in mind with Julia Pott’s deadpan delivery as Emily 6, substantiating much of the comedy – even when the comedy itself stumbles.
For instance, she announces ‘I have now remembered why I am here’ right after exclaiming ‘I have forgotten why I am here’. While the line is a snug fit for her deadpan tone, it seems almost too conventional in the face of the creative ingenuity on display for much of the runtime, and thus stale.
Pointedly, the deadpan recedes in a brief flashback where Emily 6, accompanied by a few other backup copies of Emily, tourist through the memories of Emily Prime. Riffing off of one of the film’s major themes, these backup copies can only be ‘themselves’ when living through someone else. Their deadpan is their default.
Conclusion: World of Tomorrow 2
With World of Tomorrow 2, Don Hertzfeldt has managed the remarkable in staging a grander – and, for my money, superior – sequel to a film acclaimed for its giddy existential ambition. The returning mouthpiece of Emily Prime is Hertzfeldt’s masterstroke: there’s something incredibly melancholic about a little girl oblivious to the gravity of the future that awaits her, and the people that depend on her as a resource for their own happiness.
In a way, we are at once both Emily Prime and Emily 6 – naive, unaware of our future, but struggling to let go of the past too, and unsure of our own identity. Hertzfeldt has created a microcosm for the human condition within the (literally) mind-blowing interaction between a young girl and her older clone. By scouring the minds of its Emilys instead of looking to the stars, World of Tomorrow 2 paradoxically expands its scope. If Hertzfeldt has a third lined up, then tomorrow can’t come soon enough.
Have you seen World of Tomorrow 2? If not, why not? If so, how can Emily’s story go on from here?
World of Tomorrow 2 is available on demand at Vimeo.
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