A homeschooling innovation brings opportunity and danger
It’s appropriate that the name of the heroine in writer/director Brad Bird’s latest family adventure, Tomorrowland, is Casey Newton as the movie proudly echoes the Enlightenment philosophy of scientific progress as the solution for the world’s ills.
A wannabe astronaut, teenage Casey (a charming Britt Robertson) has had it with the depressing dystopian messages constantly issuing not only from novels and movies, but from the media, politicians, and her teachers as well. A cockeyed optimist from the top of her father’s NASA ball cap to the toes of her scuffed iconoclastic motorcycle boots, she’s determined to start finding solutions to problems like nuclear armament and melting polar ice caps. And if those solutions require vandalizing a little public property, well, omelets and eggs and all that. What’s an arrest record compared to preventing the government from dismantling the space program?
Casey’s cheerful industriousness soon brings her to the attention of Athena (Raffey Cassidy), an adorable 10-year-old recruiter for Tomorrowland, a Galt’s Gulchish utopia built by the world’s best and brightest. Unfortunately, it seems that with the exception of Athena, the best and brightest are content to leave Earth to its self-destructive deserts. Unless Athena and Casey can convince curmudgeonly Tomorrowland exile, Frank Walker (George Clooney), to team up with them to save it, Tomorrowland will soon be the only world left.
From jet-pack jaunts to Eiffel-Tower rocket launches, Tomorrowland is a visual treat, it’s fun, fast-paced storyline harkening back to the Spielberg classics of the ’80s. (And like Spielberg’s classics, it pushes the bounds of a PG rating. Parents are likely to be annoyed by constant mild profanity and scary cyborg decapitations.)
Though Bird gives an obligatory nod to global warming, any environmental messaging seems beside the point, merely a symbol for all the BIG PROBLEMS we wring our hands over every day. As such, at first glance, Casey’s outlook feels like a welcome antidote to the overwhelming trend of cynicism in today’s entertainment. The movie poses a riddle: You have two wolves, one representing darkness and despair, the other light and hope. Which one lives? Tomorrowland’s answer, The one you feed, is unquestionably a refreshing message for today’s youth. Yet it’s also a severely incomplete if not misleading one.
Twenty-first-century America is hardly the first society to look to science, technology, and human reason as a basis for cultural advancement and collective happiness. For a time, the confident rationalism of a Voltaire or a Condorcet or a Steve Jobs or a Brad Bird feels good. And why wouldn’t it, with its self-idolizing idea that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for? And then the Age of Reason gives way to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.
Like any ideology that leaves God out of the equation, humanistic optimism is ultimately limited. We cannot cure the world through the power of positive thinking or by tapping into the creative well-spring hidden within our own souls. Wars, famine, pollution, poverty, greed will always be with us because sin will always be with us. Our nature is evil; our only hope for good is to cast ourselves on the mercy of the only One who is good.
Frankly, perhaps part of the reason doom and gloom consistently reasserts itself in our storytelling is because, on some subconscious level, we recognize that our physical Earth is doomed and nothing humanity does will save it. This is a truth that Casey Newton’s namesake knew well.