Tomorrowland has a ton of big ideas, but most of them go relatively unexplained in the movie itself (not a huge surprise given Damon Lindelof wrote the script).
The movie definitely doesn’t require that you know the answers to every mystery, but it certainly leaves the door open to a ton of questions. Luckily, some of these concepts are explained in the Tomorrowland prequel novel and promotional material, while others are open to some good old fashioned guess-work and fan theorizing.
What is Tomorrowland?
This is probably the most confusing aspect of the story, and could have used a bit more explanation. If I had just seen the movie, I probably would have assumed that Tomorrowland is some kind of alternate dimension.
According to the prequel novel Before Tomorrowland and other supplementary material though, it’s actually an entirely different planet, complete with its own ecosystem of alien animal and plant life. The extra-dimensional travel is just how they reach the planet, as it’s many, many lightyears away.
How was it discovered?
Again, none of this information is in the actual movie, so don’t worry, you didn’t miss an entire scene or anything.
Basically, Tomorrowland was first discovered by an organization called Plus Ultra (aka, +U) in 1899. About a decade later, +U was able to mount an expedition to the planet, by tearing a hole in the fabric of space-time using an atomic bomb. Yes, +U managed to develop the bomb decades before it was “invented” in WWII. In fact, many key members of the Manhattan Project were known +U members.
Twenty years later, Nikola Tesla developed a way to send people via particle beam (he called it the “Grid”), which is obviously a lot better than blowing up atomic bombs. This method would be further improved by the time the events of the film roll around, with the ability to open door-like portals to and from Tomorrowland.
What is Plus Ultra exactly?
+U was established at the 1889 World’s Fair, when some of world’s most brilliant minds came together to form a society of “optimists,” dedicated to working together to change the world for the better. Its founding members were Jules Verne, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Gustave Eiffel.
Its membership would later include well-known historical figures like Amelia Earhart, Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain, Howard Hughes, Orson Welles, and even Walt Disney himself.
Of all of their scientific achievements, their biggest development was the discovery of Tomorrowland (originally named The New Frontier by Howard Hughes), and the organization’s subsequent colonization of it. It’s here they built their headquarters, dedicated to scientific progress that could benefit mankind, free from any commercial, military, or political interference.
What does Plus Ultra mean?
Plus Ultra is Latin for “further beyond.”
Why didn’t Plus Ultra reveal Tomorrowland to the public?
According to the prequel novel, +U did plan on revealing Tomorrowland’s existence in the 1930s, but Nazi sabotage led to the destruction of the “Grid,” the device they were using to transport people to the other planet. The attack also resulted in heavy damage to +U’s facilities on Tomorrowland itself.
It took over a decade of work before +U was even able to reach Tomorrowland again, and as we saw in the 1960s segment of the film, it looked like the place was still coming together when Frank first visited it. Eventually, they began seeking new +U candidates again, using high-tech pins and robot recruiters.
How do those pins work?
They’re like super advanced VR tech that gives potential +U candidates a look into Tomorrowland. As Frank points out though, it isn’t a “real” look, it’s all been pre-recorded. +U experimented with a similar technology in the prequel novel, using pairs of glasses instead of pins.
In present day, Athena has taken a case of the last remaining pins to Earth, in order to find someone who can help her fix Tomorrowland.
What is Athena, and why hasn’t she aged?
Athena is a robot, or more specifically, an “Audio-Animatronic.” Her job is to find, assess, and recruit potential +U members.
Governor Nix, the current leader of Tomorrowland, shuttered this program though, suspending all recruitment, and attempted to disassemble Athena. She escaped, and continued her mission on Earth.
What are Audio-Animatronics?
That’s what +U calls their robots. In real-life, the term was coined by Walt Disney himself to describe the robots he was developing for his theme parks.
Why did Plus Ultra stop recruiting?
We’re never explicitly told, but it likely has something to do with Frank’s tachyon machine, called the Monitor. After predicting with 100% certainty that the people on Earth would destroy themselves, it seems that Governor Nix (the leader of Plus Ultra at the time) took a hardline approach to +U isolating themselves.
Is that why Frank was exiled?
Probably. The film only tells us that he was exiled after completing work on the Monitor. The feeling I got was that Nix’s isolationist policies caused a lot of friction in the ranks of the organization, leading to the banishment of people like Frank.
The Tomorrowland we see in present day times seems very depopulated, and in significant disrepair. My guess is that in the face of Nix’s authoritarian (and increasingly militaristic) leadership, many members of Plus Ultra were either forced out, or chose to leave.
And is that also why evil robots are chasing Casey?
As part of Governor Nix’s isolationist policies, he’s dispatched robots to Earth to cover up any traces of Tomorrowland’s existence. Nix’s robots are basically there to kill anyone who might find out about the other world, so that it can never be “polluted” by other people from Earth.
As a bit of extra lore, the robots he has are based on +U designs created in the 30s called “Faustus” robots. Those robots were peaceful creations though, meant to guide +U potential candidates. Nix’s updates are quite a bit more… violent (although both versions have very creepy smiles).
What is that teleportation machine Casey, Frank, and Athena use?
It’s a technology called Wire Transfer, which is explored a bit more in the prequel novel. It was developed in the 1930s by Tesla, and was originally only able to send people via landlines. In the movie, the technology has advanced to the point where it can teleport people via satellite dishes.
It saps the blood sugar from you in the process though, making it a pretty uncomfortable experience.
Why is there a rocket ship that goes to Tomorrowland, when they have portals you can just walk through?
The rocket that takes Frank, Casey, and Athena to Tomorrowland is super old. It was built by the founding members of +U (Tesla, Edison, Eiffel, and Verne) as a way to reach Tomorrowland in case of an emergency (and only in an emergency. You’ll notice it has no way to take you back to Earth).
Why does Tomorrowland look ruined when Casey and Frank get there?
I think we’re to assume that under Nix’s leadership, things like exploration and space travel were deprioritized, hence why the space port is completely abandoned. Instead, it seems Nix has been pushing development on weapons technology and robot death-squads.
Note how those giant guard robots from the last scene look very similar to the construction ones from the 60s. Nix’s influence has apparently corrupted +U’s original goals.
What does the Monitor do anyways?
Using tachyons, particles that move faster than light, Frank’s invention lets you see into both the past, and possible/probable futures.
As an unintended side effect of using the machine though, it sends powerful subliminal signals out that are affecting the population of Earth. How these signals can reach that far is never explained, but it’s likely due to +U’s network links to the planet, which lets them travel back and forth.
Why did it predict the world was going to end?
Basically, because humanity has given up hope for the future, and has resigned itself to the idea that the world is going to end, and there’s nothing we can do about. This is the movie’s commentary on the glut of apocalyptic fiction that is big in pop culture right now (think Walking Dead and similar).
The machine itself is actually a self-fulfilling prophecy though. In addition to predicting the end of the world, the Monitor is actually beaming that idea into people’s subconscious. As we find out, Nix is doing this on purpose in order to scare the population into fixing our problems. Instead though, it’s just caused people to embrace the idea of the inevitable end of the world.
Why did the 100% flicker when Casey was around?
It represented her optimism, and the very slim chance that it could change things. She hasn’t given up on the future, so bringing her to Tomorrowland represented the possibility that she could figure out a solution. Considering the Earth survived a full year past the predicted “end date,” it seems that gamble paid off.
Why does Nix try to stop Casey from fixing things?
He’s really given up on the population back on Earth. After his plan to scare them straight backfires, he seems almost disgusted with how much people have embraced the idea of the end of the world.
Nix no longer has any interest in fixing things, he just wants Tomorrowland to be left alone while the Earth destroys itself.
How does Athena save Frank from getting shot?
She saw Nix shoot him due to the tachyon interference (it showed her one possible future outcome of that). Armed with that knowledge (and super fast reactions), she jumped in front of the blast.
Why do Athena and the other robots self-destruct?
It’s probably to prevent them from being discovered on Earth if they get disabled or malfunction. It definitely seems like a safety hazard though.
What happens at the end?
For whatever reason, the people of Tomorrowland don’t really seem to care that Governor Nix had a building fall on him. Instead, it appears that Frank becomes the new leader of +U.
He and Casey begin a new recruitment campaign, including bringing Casey’s family and other former-NASA engineers to the city. They also create a new group of robot recruiters like Athena, who go to Earth to find new “dreamers”: scientists, artists, activists and other people who haven’t given up on the world.
Whether they have stopped the predicted catastrophe from happening, or merely delayed it, is left ambiguous. Given the message of the movie though, you can probably feel pretty optimistic about everyone’s future.