Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow Is Sincerely Weird (and Weirdly Sincere) by T.J. Murray

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 1.05.43 AMIn World of Tomorrow, a short animated film by Don Hertzfeldt, a little girl named Emily receives a message from a clone of herself from the future who possesses all of little Emily’s memories. So Emily does what a kid does, and shows off her toy cars.

The clone takes Emily into the future and recounts major elements of her life and times, including love affairs with rocks, the horrors of discount time travel, and melancholic robot poetry.

The film presents weird event after weird event filtered through the accepting and cheerful perspective of a little girl. The weirdness is embraced, and the true things behind the weirdness are made clearer.

The style is minimalist, but even in that this film flips the norm; while most minimalist comics and animations have more detailed foregrounds and empty backgrounds, World of Tomorrow has stick figures for most characters and beautifully rendered settings. This juxtaposition adds to the eeriness of the film. When slews of humans die, it’s beautiful.

When the clone learns not to love rocks anymore (as if not loving rocks is a crucial step in emotional maturity), there’s a truth, sadness, and humor that is only made possible through the weird. I won’t spoil the ending, but Hertzfeldt presents a clear moral message that I think works best because of the weirdness that has led us there.

Emily’s voice comes from recordings of Hertzfeldt’s niece, and I can’t help but wonder if it was her words that guided the story or the other way around. Sometimes it seems like a little girl talking nonsense and Hertzfeldt guiding the story to incorporate the silliest things she says. At one point, little Emily tells her clone, who has just drawn a snake boy, “But some days you have to not make a snake boy, because yesterday I didn’t see any snake boys, but you made one.” It’s a line delivered with astounding sincerity. I’m not entirely sure what it means, and I’m not sure that we’re supposed to, but it hits on something that I, as a doodler, understand. Some days, I really do have to not make a snake boy. And that’s because people don’t see snake boys. I should be making something that’s not a doodle of imaginary creatures. But still, I make snake boys. It’s this truth in the asinine that Hertzfeldt does so amazingly throughout this short film.  

Sincere weirdness, by which I mean the absolute acceptance of the unabashedly bizarre, is what seeps from this film. It’s what I hope seeps from weirderary as well. And if something HAS to seep from my skin, I hope it’s that too.

World of Tomorrow is streaming on Netflix and is available to rent through Vimeo here. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 2016. You can find more of Hertzfeldt’s work at www.bitterfilms.com.

T.J. Murray is a cartoonist and fiction writer from Hornell, New York. He is currently pursuing his MFA at the University of South Florida in Tampa. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Hobart, The Rumpus, theEEEL, Monkeybicycle, and Pinball. He is an editor for weirderary and arranges eccentric cohosts for First Draft, a monthly live lit event in Tampa.