The Last Jedi is a Messy Masterpiece
“Escape from Tomorrow,” Randy Moore’s illegally filmed and secretly produced dark satire, is the sort of psychological thriller that will inspire conversation for years to come. One is almost tempted to compare it to films like “Donnie Darko” and “Eraserhead,” psychological thrillers that became cult hits because of their surreal and discomforting approach to narrative. This comparison may not be entirely fair; “Escape from Tomorrow” is in some ways disappointing in the scope of its ambition and occasional failure to achieve it; but it shows more than enough flashes of disturbing brilliance to warrant a watch and deserves the cult following it will undoubtedly procure.
On its most basic level, the film tells a story of madness at the happiest place on earth. Jim (Roy Abramsohn) is already in a bad mood on the last day of vacation with his nagging wife (Elena Schuber), disrespectful son (Jack Dalton), and free-spirited daughter (Katelynn Rodriguez), when he receives a call from his boss letting him know that he is being laid-off. Not wanting to ruin the family’s day-trip to Disneyworld, he keeps his loss a secret, only to find that the park’s silly, smiley, and saccharine world quickly becomes a nightmarish hellhole to a man whose spirit is broken. Over the course of Jim’s day, he suffers vivid and demonic hallucinations, tries to follow a pair of French girls, and discovers that a dark organization may be trying to ruin his life. And that’s not even half the story.
The film’s plot is interesting, to be sure, but woefully uneven. Jim’s adventure goes from human comedy, to intense psychological thriller, to B-movie sci-fi, over the course of about an hour and a half. Or it was just a psychological thriller the whole time, I’m not entirely sure. The transitions are fascinating, even if what is happening onscreen alternates between surreally shallow and frustrating. The fact is, the film’s story (which I cannot even completely describe, from a desire to not spoil too much and an inability to comprehend what I would be spoiling), were it in any other movie, would not be interesting. Moore often thinks his material is more ingenious than it actually is, to the point where he is unable to stick to just one story. At some point, it’s almost intolerable if not for its anchor; a performance by Abramsohn with enough bewilderment and cynicism to get a similar-feeling audience onboard.
For all its flaws though, this film’s brilliance shines through in its production. For one thing, it was filmed guerilla-style at Disney parks in Orlando and California (including the surrounding hotels and even Epcot) without the knowledge (let alone consent) of the Disney corporation; in a black-and-white monochrome that apes the works of David Lynch and Roman Polanski Polanski. Characters take care to not speak the name of the park, nor the company, but it is still more than obvious where they are. Mickey, Goofy, and the gang all have plenty of cameos, and the “Buzz Lightyear” ride plays a pivotal role. But even more shocking than the production is the sentiment; the film and Disneyland are inseparable on a thematic level. One can make the assertion that Moore is making a statement about American consumerist culture (I think, I’m not really sure), but whatever point he makes about our world is done through Disney, assuming the point he is making is not about Disney specifically. So why isn’t the corporation a bit more angry?
If you research the film, you will see a widely-held belief in the project’s mortality. The website for the film features a counter displaying how long the film has been available without litigious action from Disney. To many, it’s surprising this movie even saw the light of day, considering it contains footage of both copyrighted characters and customers who did not consent to being used in a film. One could make the point that Disney’s lack of action is to prevent the film from garnering more buzz than it already has. This is not an unfair strategy; to be fair the film’s apparent theme (that not even the happiest place on earth is safe) isn’t entirely new, and its attacks on the theme parks are more disturbing than hateful. Even so, Disney has never been pictured in quite this way before, and it seems the organization’s primary strategy is to wait out the film’s fame and hope people see “Saving Mr. Banks” instead.
Except the film’s fame may not be that short-lived. “Escape from Tomorrow” may not be a masterpiece (or even really that good), but its below-the-radar production and distribution (it is available on iTunes; if you want to see it, show some respect to the creators and don’t pirate it) shows what is sure to be a trend in the future of filmmaking. In that regard, it’s the sort of film that would make old Walt proud, assuming he isn’t spinning in his grave.