“Well I don’t care what the critics say—I think it’s a great message!”
So confesses Will Durst, exiting the San Rafael movie theater where we’ve just watched the upbeat, epic action movie Tomorrowland, Disney’s optimistic answer to the end-of-the-world gloom and doom of Mad Max, San Andreas and Age of Ultron.
Wait a minute.
Age of Ultron was a Disney movie, wasn’t it?
“You know what? I liked Tomorrowland a lot!” continues Durst, the San Francisco-based comic, author and political satirist known for finding a silver lining of humor in even the worst of situations. “I like the whole ‘hope’ thing in the movie. Stop with the doom and gloom already. I think the movie is totally right. I think all of these apocalyptic-nightmare-dystopia movies are a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s nice to have something that challenges that a little.”
Tomorrowland, directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) is nothing if not a challenge to the norm—not that it doesn’t offer a bit of sobering future shock on its way to suggesting a possible redemption. The movie is inspired, in part, by the utopian dreams of Walt Disney, who concocted the original Tomorrowland attractions at Disneyland and went on to dream up the futuristic Epcot Center at Disney World. It follows a brilliant teenager named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), who hears warnings of global warming and nuclear proliferation and asks, “What are we doing to fix it?” When she finds a mysterious pin showing her a glimpse of a big, bright, beautiful city full of rocket packs and hovering busses, she heads out in search of the reclusive inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney), who might know how to take her there.
Unfortunately, she eventually learns, the world is going to end in 58 days, and nobody cares enough to change it. Critics have called the movie “half-baked” and “simplistic,” even accusing it of having lapses in logic. But criticizing a film like Tomorrowland for a few logical failures is a bit like finding plot problems in Aesop’s Fables.
“This fable has plot problems!” Durst says, taking on the haughty tone of some anti-Aesop pundit. “If frogs could talk, would the frogs not be more interested in locating a sustainable food source than engaging in existential discussions on the nature of humankind?’ These frogs have clear logic issues!”
Despite its Aesop-like nature, Tomorrowland does carry plenty of action, with killer robots, spaceships, flying contraptions, laser beams, explosions, implosions, inter-dimensional travel and an awesome battle in a store full of Star Wars kitsch and Lost in Space collectibles.
“The thing is,” Durst says, once we’ve settled down with our biodegradable coffee cups filled with fair trade beverages, “the world really might be coming to an end if we don’t do something about it. And we really do love movies about the apocalypse. In Tomorrowland, the one guy says that when we were given a vision of the future we were heading for, we turned it into movies and video games. And he’s right. Even Stephen Hawking says that if we create real Artificial Intelligence (AI) it could be very bad, but instead of abandoning it, the corporations plow ahead with AI and the rest of us watch movies in which the robots take over the world.”
That—in a nutshell—is exactly what Tomorrowland is saying. Durst has been thinking a lot about the end of the world lately. Having struck a chord with his hit one-man-show about the past, Boomeraging: From LSD to OMG—which plays this Friday and Saturday at 8pm at San Rafael’s Belrose Theater—he’s about to launch a brand new solo show titled, Durst Case Scenario, in which he looks at the future.
“The new show is definitely going to touch on the end of the world,” Durst says. “You know there are those Worst Case Scenario books, giving contingency plans on how to escape from grizzly bears or how to escape from quicksand. Well in my new show I’ll explain what to do if you find Vladimir Putin in your hotel room shirtless. So it’s about terrible things, but it’s funny. It’s like if the zombie apocalypse happened, but all the zombies were wearing clown noses.”
Actually, that would be terrifying.
“I’m just glad there were no zombies in Tomorrowland, Durst goes on. “I’m so tired of zombies. And who invented fast zombies? When did that happen? Zombies aren’t supposed to sprint, like in a lot of the new zombie movies. Zombies are supposed to trudge and stumble. I want dim, stupid, meandering zombies. Oh wait! That’s the Tea Party!”
One of the points of the movie is that the end-of-the-world scenarios we play out in our entertainment aren’t just society’s way of examining the things we are afraid of. These movies are our way of preparing for a future we’ve consciously chosen to embrace.
“Sure, ’cause if the end of the world comes, then we’re off the hook,” Durst says with a laugh. “The apocalypse is coming this afternoon? Great! I guess I don’t have to go to work tomorrow. And I can stop recycling while I’m at it! Seriously though, nobody wants a drought in California, right? But is anyone willing to actually change their lives to keep it from coming? Of course not!
“In the movie, the guy says, ‘You have concurrent epidemics of starvation and obesity. How does that happen?’ He’s right. We could fix a lot of our problems right now, but that would hurt the corporations’ bottom line, so we just shrug and move on. Even when we fix one problem, we create another. We’re figuring out how to make machines to turn seawater into drinkable water, which is great, right? So what’s going to happen when we perfect these systems? We are going to suck the oceans dry! Because that’s how we roll.”
The best thing about Tomorrowland, though, is its suggestion that if enough people were inspired by a positive vision of the future, the dreamers and thinkers and artists might band together to find a way to solve our problems in a sustainable, mutually beneficial way.
“I actually think it can happen,” Durst says. “I do. I think we can get out of our own way, and make it hip to be positive, and we can find the people who can save the world. I believe there can be a positive, optimistic tomorrow.
“I just hope,” he adds with a laugh, “the world lasts long enough for tomorrow to happen.”