I don’t normally allow my lifelong infatuation with cinema to leak into my writing, but after a long (and discouraging) day in ‘the field’ here in western Uganda, and after deciding to round it off with the most recent live-action Disney ride-turned-film, Tomorrowland, I couldn’t resist reflecting on the moral therein (cue the necessary spoiler-alert).
The film follows the imagination, vision and hope of Frank Walker (Clooney, oh Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), both of them products of the pursuit of their dreams of jetpacks, space exploration and discovery of the unknown. Through some (adorable) outside intervention, our heroes are able to bear witness to a fantastic future, a place and time where human beings create, build and invent freely without the confines of corrupt governments and the greed of corporations that continuously opt for power and profits over peace and prosperity equally shared among all.
These young dreamers espouse the belief that anything is possible, that with enough know-how and with access to an environment conducive to transforming dreams into reality, human beings can take full advantage of their infinite creativity and usher in a future where all of the world’s problems are met with collaboratively crafted solutions.
As her teachers in school vehemently preach gospels of destruction — the melting of the polar ice caps, mutually assured annihilation through nuclear proliferation, modern manifestations of Huxley and Bradbury’s dystopian visions of the future — a young Casey Newton begs the question too few of us remember to ask:
“I get things are bad, but what are we doing to fix it?”
With so many signs pointing towards our annihilation, instead of being frightened into a compulsion to act quickly and create solutions, the film poses the argument that so much of humankind embraces with an almost orgiastic revelry the unfolding narrative of impending self-destruction.
Messages omnipresent in modern media — from 24 hour news cycles that pit tragedy against hope in a perpetually one-sided battle, to violent and catastrophic films and video games that entertain us through glorification of what our ultimate demise might look like — serve only to encourage human beings to gleefully accept, and even perpetuate their undoing.
The film thus explores the increasingly pessimistic minds of adults in stark contrast with the tenacity and hope of the world’s youth — young girls and boys who, with the right education and freedom to express their creativity, rise to the challenges faced by humankind.
Rather than accepting all of the grim and ostensibly imminent Malthusian or Orwellian predictions of what could be, they make the conscious effort to find sustainable solutions — to fix it.
Working in international development, it is notoriously easy to become jaded. We are surrounded daily by ineffective band-aid solutions to serious threats to humanity’s well-being, by organizational corruption and an all-too-common lack of transparency and accountability, by the detrimental influence of archaic and draconian laws and policies that stymie the efforts of some of the world’s best and brightest, and by the neo-colonial ambitions of civil society organizations, missionary groups and bilateral institutions that often oppress rather than empower.
Listen in on any conversation between aid workers here in Uganda, and you will undoubtedly hear some derivative of “well, this country/continent/world is beyond repair anyway.” We are surrounded by those who have accepted the notion that human beings cannot overcome the obstacles that lie in our path as a species.
We situate ourselves within this prophecy and, as Tomorrowland suggests, it then becomes self-fulfilling, thus sealing our fate and obscuring any hope of turning it all around.
But look more closely, and you will find that we are simultaneously surrounded by a different vision, one of promise and possibility.
The wild imaginations and idealism of youth emerging into the fields of international development, environmental science, engineering, politics, education, and public health are constantly pushing deeply passionate individuals to create ideas that shine through the doom and gloom of all the apocalyptic interpretations of our destiny.
Those who uncover innovative alternatives to finite resources and fossil fuels, those who dream up voucher systems to improve health for the world’s poor, those who tirelessly research cures to disease and epidemics, those who use the power of music to speak out against injustice and empower youth everywhere to rise up against it, those who find ways to properly hold their governments accountable, those who lead the fight for equality and equity among genders, races, cultures, sexualities, creeds and classes and those who stand as allies by their side — these are the voices and the hands that are actively shaping our future.
“We are looking for dreamers…the ones who haven’t given up. They’re the future.”
The message of the film resonates deeply with this admittedly cynical aid worker, and upholds the belief that no matter what, there is always hope. Tomorrowland reminds us that the optimism and creativity of youth are all-too-often stifled by an unforgiving and discouraging world order, but that even when things may look their most bleak, a paradigm shift is possible.
There are plenty of those who have not given up, and who will not give up.
As human beings, we will not only fight to save this world, we will work together to create the world we want, the world that we deserve.
We will continue to use the foundations of our dreams to build a new tomorrow — for ourselves, for our children, and for our planet. All it takes is the commitment to actually do it, and to do it together.
So please, don’t give up. There can always be a tomorrow.