casey robertson

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“'Tomorrowland’ is very much the dream role for me. I’ve always wanted to do a movie like this. Movies like this aren’t made anymore, and it’s so cool that I get to be a part of it. I get to do something new and crazy every day, and my character goes through so many different things. I get to do all of it. It’s awesome.” - Britt Robertson

you know what sucks

tomorrowland features women in two of the three leading roles

and instead of making either of them, funko makes figurines of George Clooney, George Clooney’s character as a kid (onscreen for about 40 minutes), and Hugh Laurie (onscreen for about 30 minutes)

not the two girls who save the universe from imminent destruction. not the two girls who are brave enough to take a stand or kind enough to befriend each other or smart enough to survive on their own just fine for the first half and climax of the movie. not the main characters.

just the men.

The Discovery of Hope

WARNING: Please be aware that this post explores major plot points in Jupiter Ascending, Mad Max: Fury Road and Tomorrowland. Don’t read it if you don’t want to be spoiled.

2015 has been a very, very interesting year at the movies so far, and the three movies I’m going to discuss here all explore the same theme: hope. Jupiter Ascending, Mad Max: Fury Road and Tomorrowland all have hope and redemption as central themes, though they use and present them in radically different ways.

I’ll aim to be as brief as possible when summing up the films’ approaches. In Jupiter Ascending, everything is highly personal: it’s a film about families and interpersonal relationships, and how they are affected and distorted by greater forces. Jupiter (Mila Kunis) starts the film without hope, but she wants to find it; the dead father she never knew represents hope and optimism, concepts that are alien to her, and Jupiter attempts to connect with him by getting a telescope that she can use to see the world as he saw it. Over the course of her adventures, Jupiter finds courage and strength within herself. She survives and endures despite great adversity, and her adventures in space are capped off by her looking down at Earth from space, her eyes shining with hope and love – she is finally able to see the world as her father did, as a source of wonder and possibility. The change is personal.

In Mad Max: Fury Road, the world is a scorched and barren wasteland; the remaining pockets of humanity are ruled by brutal tribes, and people are treated as commodities. This world is ruled by chaos and brutality, but Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) wants to find hope and redemption; she sets about this by rescuing the slave wives of the evil despot Immortan Joe, transporting them across the desert in pursuit of the idealised ‘green place’ where she grew up. After learning that the green place has become as much a wasteland as the rest of the world, Furiosa and her companions make the difficult choice to turn back to where they know there is water and the possibility of starting again: Immortan Joe’s Citadel. Overcoming incredible odds, Furiosa and her travelling companions manage to defeat Immortan Joe and take his stronghold for themselves, marking an end to the tyranny and cruelty that had reigned there before. Furiosa brings hope to the people who had suffered under Immortan Joe, and also achieves hope and redemption for herself. The change is both personal and societal.

In Tomorrowland, Casey (Britt Robertson) is a bright and optimistic teenager frustrated by the endless focus on doom and disaster in our present society; she is hopeful herself, but wants the rest of the world to share in her optimism. Over the course of the film she is introduced to the mysterious Tomorrowland of the title, a place that turns out to be an alternate dimension populated by the ‘best and brightest’ – inventors, artists and innovators. Most of the film follows the journey to Tomorrowland as Casey teams up with child robot Athena and grizzled former boy genius Frank. When they actually get to Tomorrowland, Casey discovers that Earth’s imminent demise has been predicted; soon after, however, she realises that the Earth’s fate isn’t inevitable and can be avoided by destroying the machine predicting the future. It turns out that the machine itself is generating negative energy and thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by implanting negative thoughts in people’s minds. After destroying the machine, all is well and Casey and her family move to Tomorrowland where she and Frank prepare to dispatch robot agents to recruit new dreamers for their ideal society. The change is societal.

Mad Max probably handles hope in the most powerful and affecting manner, since it presents a very clear and satisfying triumph over evil and a thoroughly earned rediscovery of hope for a whole society. Jupiter Ascending also handles it well, since it has no pretensions and is very clear that the discovery of hope is Jupiter’s – the film is explicitly her story, and her discovery of hope is rewarding because she remains good and perseveres in the face of immense suffering and evil. In short, she earns the hope and happiness she achieves by the end of the film. While Jupiter’s discovery of hope isn’t presented as having a wider societal impact, it suggests the possibility of wider change and transformation in the future.

In contrast, Tomorrowland’s treatment of hope is weak and unconvincing. It essentially presents hope and optimism as a magic bullet solution to our societal ills – it’s a good sentiment, but you don’t buy it for a second since the film practically beats you over the head with it and fails to acknowledge the actual causes of the evils it claims to have a solution to. It’s also notable that there isn’t really any character arc for Casey, our nominal lead – she’s just as bright and optimistic at the end of the film as she is at the start, and while she’s clever and likeable she’s almost completely static. While she goes on a physical journey, it doesn’t change her as the respective journeys of Jupiter and Furiosa change those characters.  All in all, it makes for a very frustrating watch and a very frustrating message. There is a great deal of potential in Tomorrowland, but the film ultimately feels hollow because of the flakiness of its ideas and its attempt to present a thoroughly Disney-fied solution to extremely serious and complex problems. It’s fatally naïve.  

I have many thoughts on Tomorrowland and how it compares to Jupiter Ascending, so keep an eye out for further posts. In the meantime, what do you make of these films’ presentation of hope? How do they compare as far as you’re concerned?