Editor’s Note: Tomorrow opens in limited theatrical release today, April 21, 2017.
In 2015, the news cycle, at least for one day, exploded with the revelation that the earth at this moment is in its sixth major extinction event, known as the Holocene. For most people, this was apparently a shrug-and-forget-it bit of news, but for director Mélanie Laurent and activist Cyril Dion, it was something more: a call to action. Together they began work on Tomorrow, an activist film and documentary focusing on local agriculture, conservation and climate change, with a focus on what the individual can do to try to prevent what could become world-wide catastrophe.
The film is right right when it talks about “insatiable humanity,” how people want easy access to infinite varieties of foods in large quantities, but then does nothing but scold people for dreaming of cherry pies, candy bars and chocolate chip cookies.
Though generally charming, the forced conversational style of Tomorrow is an unnecessary distraction, and the self-consciously hipster style of Laurent, Dion and their film crew becomes a bit cutesy after a while. This is a film directed at the converted; no one who denies climate change or humanity’s influence on the environment will have their mind changed by watching this, if indeed you could even get them to watch it. There is a mixed bag of talking heads, the most interesting and useful, as far as relating their experiences with town gardens and small activist groups goes, being locals in abandoned areas of Detroit, the sleepy town of Todmorden in West Yorkshire, and the slums of Chennai.
This extinction event that affects animals, insects, plants — and us — began an estimated 12,000 years ago when we started to domesticate plants for agriculture. What we’re seeing now as far as extinction and clime change has increased as the human population has increased. Explaining this wouldn’t convince everyone, of course, but Tomorrow doesn’t even try to convert the non-believers, which would probably be a worthwhile goal. Thanks to modern media being focused entirely on getting attention, when the public hears about “global warming,” it thinks that the media is saying Agnes down at the Clip ‘n’ Curl put a hole in the atmosphere back in 1977 because of all the cans of Aqua Net she used to hold her flicked hair, which makes it easy to scoff, and Tomorrow does nothing to counter that kind of erroneous information.
This is a film directed at the converted; no one who denies climate change or humanity’s influence on the environment will have their mind changed by watching this, if indeed you could even get them to watch it.
Tomorrow, though it has its heart in the right place, commits some of the same sins of exaggeration and lack of focus as American media does, though to a far lesser extent. They’re right when they talk about “insatiable humanity,” how people want easy access to infinite varieties of foods in large quantities, for example, but they do nothing but scold people for dreaming of cherry pies, candy bars and chocolate chip cookies.
It’s about that point when the film stops giving out good advice and starts laying blame, and it’s not that there isn’t blame aplenty, but here, it’s wholly misplaced. While Tomorrow makes sure to explain certain corporations, governments, politicians and other large entities are responsible for the varied economic and environmental issues brought up, it never deals with it head-on, instead choosing to approach it as just one of those things; individuals, i.e. their intended audience, who are likely people who have already made changes on a personal level, are held to account in a way no corporation is. This is mostly done by showing some fascinating but obviously exceptional examples of conservation, local gardens, recycling and more. The film wants these examples to become commonplace, no longer exceptional, and does this by telling the audience to go out there and do that thing.
Meanwhile, when speaking to a representative at the San Francisco waste treatment and recycling center, Laurent sounds positively aghast at the fact that recycling is the law in the city, as though the government shouldn’t even be involved. Later, a spokesperson from Belgium takes it one further by suggesting that democratic governments do away with elections entirely and instead just draw lots amongst the citizens to pick new leaders every so often.
That’s a common flaw in modern activist films, but at some point, even the most receptive audience is going to get tired of being told they aren’t doing enough, while at the same time being given advice that is of no use whatsoever. There’s also some guaranteed frustration for viewers, as the film has no real grasp of the fact that you can’t easily compare the culture, society, government, resources, or even the size of, say, the United States with Iceland. The film’s one-world attitude is noble but not particularly realistic.
With good intentions and some useful information, activist film Tomorrow, concerned with sustainable, local agriculture and other conservation efforts, loses its way when it gets a little too cutesy, and when it starts to blame rather than inform.