The other day I texted a friend "how are you," and he replied with: "crying a little." He told me he'd just watched "World of Tomorrow," a 16-minute animated film currently streaming on Netflix. "It's sad?" I asked. "It was just really good," he wrote. "And I got emotional about it."
The short, which I promptly watched for myself, was a festival favorite at last year's Sundance, and it's up for an Oscar next month. It tells the story of a toddler named Emily Prime who is visited by a clone of herself, also Emily, from 227 years in the future. The clone tells Emily Prime the story of her life, which is full of art, love, loss, object sexuality, and poetry written by depressed robots. The animation is extremely simple; both protagonists are just stacked two-dimensional shapes with faces. But the emotional impact is much more sophisticated.
"World of Tomorrow" was made by Don Hertzfeldt, an independent writer-director known for his plainly sketched and thematically bleak animation. What he accomplishes here in a quarter-hour feels like a masterpiece of sorts; it's both laugh-out-loud funny and profoundly sad, often thanks to the impossibly cute Emily Prime, who initially seems far too young to grasp the intricacies of her older clone's long, complicated, futuristic life. But as things progress, Hertzfeldt proves some feelings and memories are so elemental that they transcend age and time and space.
"I loved him as though we were originals," Emily the clone says while recounting a romance she had with a male clone. Her vaguely robotic monotone sounds soothing over the somber piano-based score. It's one of several lines that hits you straight in the gut. I could write more here, but the thing is only 16 minutes long. Just watch it yourself.