World of Tomorrow 2: The Burden of Other People's Thoughts Review (Short Film, 2017)

"World of Tomorrow 2: The Burden of Other People's Thoughts" is a sequel to the 2015 Academy Award-nominated animated short "World of Tomorrow" by Don Hertzfeldt. It is a continuation of the story, as much as you can consider "World of Tomorrow" as having a story. Emily, the young girl visited by a clone of herself from centuries in the future, is visited by another version of the same clone. Where the first clone Emily encountered is eager to show her the future, Emily 6 is only concerned with the past. She is tired of being an incomplete and abandoned clone of an Emily who no longer exists, so she travels back in time to reboot herself off of the original Emily's memories.

 The poster for "World of Tomorrow 2," featuring young Emily 6 staring up at a bright red glowing orbs.

The poster for "World of Tomorrow 2," featuring young Emily 6 staring up at a bright red glowing orbs.

"World of Tomorrow 2" is all about memory. Obviously, what we experienced in life does shape and mold how we develop and live. Emily 6, however, has been forced to live a life solely defined by other people's memories. She cannot escape the past because the fractured past lives are all she has left in her damaged memory unit.

Emily 6 aims to recreate the only stability she's ever remembered: Emily Prime's childhood. Despite taking place after the original "World of Tomorrow," Emily Prime is so innocent in her youth that these wild explorations of time, space, and philosophy have not had any lasting effects on her yet. She is concerned with the immediate world around her: a new friend, the drawings she wants to make in the moment, what she sees, hears, and tastes when she travels to the dream world. There's a beautiful naivete to Emily Prime's thoughts that seems desirable to the long-suffering Emily 6.

"World of Tomorrow 2" does have more of a plot than the original short. Emily 6 is going to bond with Emily Prime to reboot her memory system. The story might take them to unexpected places and have elements of stream of consciousness narrative, but the overall arc has a clear end point. There's even a crucial subplot justified by the cloned memory system.

The film flashes to memories of Emily 6 traveling as a memory tourist with Emily 4 and Emily 7. Since the other two Emily clones all derive from the same Emily Prime and know they will interact with her, they can remember things that Emily Prime herself has not yet experienced. For the clones, it happened centuries before; for Emily Prime, in the immediate future. Emily 4 and Emily 7 need to remember when Emily 6 went to in order to bring her back to their present--the distant future--so she doesn't literally get stuck in memories of the past.

The beautiful and biting sadness of "World of Tomorrow" isn't present in "World of Tomorrow 2." Yes, the sequel is still melancholy, but it's nowhere near the almost-nihilistic tone of the original. The original film essentially proposed that life is meaningless because we'll just be rebooted with new versions of humanity when we die. It was meant as a dark comedy, absurd in the predictions of what will happen to humanity as technology continues to develop at an exponential pace. The brilliance of the sequel is how Hertzfeldt stays true to the lore of "World of Tomorrow" and creates a much more actionable story with a clear moral.

If we live only to remember the past, we're never going to be truly happy in the present. Emily 6 has no choice but to reprogram herself because her life is literally defined by memories. Resetting herself to the memories of young Emily Prime means she has a chance to experience life for the first time without the burden of all the pain and suffering she remembers from countless lives programmed into her. She even comments on how her least favorite memories (plural) are dying. That's just sad. The film isn't suggesting that we ignore what has happened to us before, but that we don't linger on it. It's not detachment or suppression; it's investing in the present as much as possible despite remembering the past. 

 Emily Prime and Emily 6 bond over memories of childhood involving a close friend and a bracelet.

Emily Prime and Emily 6 bond over memories of childhood involving a close friend and a bracelet.

"World of Tomorrow 2" creates an expressive dream environment where literally holding onto memories can be dangerous. Emily 6 warns Emily Prime that she can become stuck in her memories if she holds onto them too long. It's not just a metaphor in this story; memories in this dream world are physical crystals that rain down from the sky. You lick them to see, feel, and experience a memory. Emily Prime talks about the memories or her imagination being sticky, which always results in Emily 6 hurrying her away from that place for their protection. Emily 6 is using her last moments built from centuries of experience to teach Emily Prime the importance of being present in the moment.

"World of Tomorrow 2" lacks the punch of the original, but it works as a beautiful expansion of the lore of the film. Things hinted at in the original--the lab, using an existing Emily clone as a backup of more significant people, the imprecision of time travel--are revisited and redefined in surprising ways. The two films complement each other well. "World of Tomorrow" establishes this bizarre future defined by clones of a young child and "World of Tomorrow 2" rearranges the ideas into a much more cohesive and rewarding story. 

"World of Tomorrow 2: The Burden of Other People's Thoughts" is available to rent or purchase on Don Hertzfeldt's Vimeo.

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