(Click to embiggen)
If you live in the Philadelphia area, you may know a little something about the Toynbee tiles. Containing messages that may refer to either a David Mamet play called 4 A.M. or 2001: A Space Odyssey (or, both,) the mysterious mosiac tiles have appeared on roadways around Pennsylvania and as far south as Santiago, Chile since the 1980s. Filmmaker Jon Foy and Philadelphia-based artist and musician Justin Duerr decided to make a documentary about the phenomenon, and after 11 years, it's debuting at Sundance next Monday:
Strangeness is afoot. Most people don't notice the hundreds of cryptic tiled messages about resurrecting the dead that have been appearing in city streets over the past three decades. But Justin Duerr does. For years, finding an answer to this long-standing urban mystery has been his obsession. He has been collecting clues that the tiler has embedded in the streets of major cities across the U.S. and South America. But as Justin starts piecing together key events of the past he finds a story that is more surreal than he imagined, and one that hits disturbingly close to home.
The message in the Toynbee Tiles varies somewhat, but most read: "Toynbee Idea / In Kubrick's 2001 / Resurrect Dead / On Planet Jupiter". While the text on the plaques was clear enough, neither Duerr nor the numerous media outlets that had documented the phenomenon knew what these tiles meant, how or why they were installed, or who was responsible for them. It seems to be a reference to historian Arnold J. Toynbee, or the many works (from Arthur C. Clarke to Ray Bradbury) that reference his ideas.
An interview with Jon Foy reveals how the filmmaker believes that there is a little bit of magic in the mystery that surrounds the tiles:
While he goes off at the end there talking about monsters and the supernatural possibly happening all around us, there is a weird negative side of the tiles. Some messages seem to talk of a conspiracy between the U.S. Government, Russia, the media, and the Jews. That part gets glossed over in the preview above ("Murder every journalist. I beg you."), and sort of ruins Foy's "believe in synchronicity and wonderment!" message.
However, overall the tiles seem to be supporting Toyanbee's "idea that in order to survive, humankind must always rush to meet the future, i.e., believe in a better world, and must always aim far beyond what is practically possible, in order to reach something barely within reach."
Which I guess translates to sending a zombie army to Jupiter. I elect Vin Diesel to lead it.
By the way, don't try and murder every journalist. We're scrappy and we carry mace.