I think it would be hard for Hollywood to green light a straight-ahead movie about an optimistic future. In some alternate universe, where our culture still embraced optimism, Tomorrowland might have been that movie.
But Tomorrowland turned out to be a film that stayed on message for our more cynical times: That dreams of a better world are hopeless at best, destructive at worst. The best we can do is to reject silly naive optimism and accept that the world is a grim and unforgiving place, before our own misplaced utopianism manages to get us all killed.
So where do you go when a better and kinder tomorrow cannot be found anywhere in the world? That’s easy: You go inward. The mind itself is our last refuge, the one place where the incessant self-interested come-ons of our modern media machine cannot completely reach.
Which leads us to Inside Out. When society itself feels under siege, bereft of love and connection, there is still one society that can never really be torn apart, where you know you will always be loved: Your own self, a place that Marvin Minsky termed “The Sociey of Mind.”
Back in 1972, Woody Allen spun David Reuben’s book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask into a fabulous parody that perfectly capture the zeitgeist of its time.
In one of the many skits that comprise that film, he pretty much invented the genre of “Aspects of the psyche represented as divergent characters looking out of a control room at reality.” But he meant the entire concept to be absurd.
Inside Out, in contrast, is not meant to be absurd — it’s meant to be received as a comedy, but a comedy based on a serious truth. And unlike anything Woody Allen would have produced in 1972, it most definitely wants to tug at our heart strings.
The film is saying that yes, we humans have great difficulty communicating with each other, let alone helping each other to a better tomorrow, but hey, that’s not really our fault. People are complicated, and it’s hard enough to focus on what’s going on inside our own heads. I think that might be a message for our times.
Back in 1960 John F. Kennedy talked about “The New Frontier.” He meant (to quote his words) “the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.”
Those days seem long gone. Now we may have a Newer Frontier — the frontier of simply getting through the day, while trying, amid the cacophony of our iPhones and tweets and hashtags and posts and likes and texts and snapchats and whatnot, to find some meaning inside our own heads.