That’s the thesis of Tomorrowland, the Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) and Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers) flick that hit theaters this weekend. It’s classic Disney film (think Escape to Witch Mountain or The Rocketeer) that thinks out of the box but brings an “old school”-style to it. It’s about the present troubles, the future hopes, and the technology that could aggravate the first or help with the second – all loves of Walt Disney himself.
There are two ways to perceive the world as we survey the lay of the land: as broken but fixable or damaged and damned. There is just too much pain and suffering seen by one-time dreamer Frank Walker (George Clooney), so he’s drawn himself up into a hermetic ball of self-loathing and pity. But then Casey Newton (Britt Robertson, Dan in Real Life, Under the Dome) arrives with one of the transformative Tomorrowland pins, capable of transporting its holder to another world, and a gleam of hope penetrates Walker’s heart again.
The film changes time and space frequently, giving it a blend of The Time Traveler’s Wife science with a Disney-level mentality. Newton is the daughter of a NASA engineer, and she dreams of soaring to the stars; the pin that futurist Athena (Raffey Cassidy) leaves her to find takes her to a magical world that resembles EPCOT’s Tomorrowland. But there are killer robots and a nefarious dictator (Hugh Laurie) intent on preventing the future that Walker once helped build and that Newton hopes for. There’s epic, soaring history-meets-imagination moments (check out the prequel YA novel by Bird, Lindelof, and Jeff Jensen for more) and serious, ethical questions about the world we live in. [For more on the back story, check out Arnaldo’s take on Tomorrowland, including a fantastic exploration of the Native American “two wolves” parable.]
I was struck by the way that the film explored what I’ll call the “Ark versus Lifeboat” mentality about the world. I grew up in an evangelical church that trumpeted the Book of Revelation and the end times as a way that all of the sickness, sadness, and evil would be wiped from the earth. Everyone who believes would be gathered up in the heaven-tinged “lifeboat”. It didn’t always jive with the way that it seemed Jesus told his disciples (and therefore, the church) to behave because Jesus’ teachings focused on caring for the people right in front of us. As I grew up, I found myself struggling with the idea that there were those who would be saved who “got it,” and that everyone else would be left to the terrible existence (whether you were pre or post millennial made a difference) of trial and tribulation.
Thanks to time in seminary and further study, I realized that not all Christians actually believe the world is going to hell in a hand basket which initially surprised… the hell… out of me. I thought it was what you had to think because, well, there was just too much wrong with the world for it to be fixed, right? It’s the mentality Laurie’s character has, and one which taints the way many of our churches see handling the least, the last, and the lost. It’s what happens when we get caught up in sin and lose track of grace, when we fail to see the power of the cross for everyone – even those who haven’t grasped its importance yet. It impacts the way we see key issues about health care and politics and war, even impacting the way that some churches and political leaders fund issues they think will precipitate the apocalypse through the future of Israel.
But the thing is that God is in the business of making arks, not lifeboats. God had Noah build an ark for two of every kind of animal (which I believe is allegorical, by the way) – Jesus goes to heaven to prepare a place for those who will believe but he says he’s coming back to earth. There’s plenty of talk about judgment but there’s even more discussion about how Jesus’ followers are supposed to take care of everyone else a la Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus riffs on sheep and goats. And how you view heaven affects how you live your life in the here and now.
If all this sounds abstract to you, thank God. There are too many times where the church’s focus on heaven means we’ve failed to do what we could in the here and now, like heaven is a playground so Earth is just for the getting by. Some folks stand with one finger on the jetpack booster ready to bail on everyone and everything but, the truth is that Jesus’ renewal of the world started well before his crucifixion and resurrection. It started with creation, covenants, and teachings about the kingdom of God. It’s supposed to be ongoing–and that includes the way we use technology, handle population growth, and explore new ways to heal people. It’s the thing that’s supposed to give us hope, not an eternal punch card.
In Tomorrowland, it’s the renewal of hope in Newton that reminds Walker of all the things he dreamed could be, of all the things he thought possible, of all the good that he once wanted to do. It’s the opposite of Laurie’s twisted humanitarian who figures that he’s “in,” so it doesn’t matter who is out. When we’re focused on hope, we can’t be stopped, we’re focused on the good– we can’t be crushed (Romans 5:5). It’s hope, in the power of God’s renewing power to transform the world, that drives us forward to care for the poor, to heal the broken, to liberate the captive. To dream in a world (not like Figment but like Martin Luther King, Jr.) that is
better, healthier, happier, and where all have enough.
That’s the world of Walker and Newton. May that world be like the kingdom of God. May that world be tomorrow.