‘The Future’ is a strange, powerful, unsettling hybrid of screwball humour and solemnity
Directed by Miranda July
Written by Miranda July
Written, directed and starring performing artist Miranda July, The Future, her sophomore effort, is a peculiar work. Taking on what seems to be a sitcom premise, The Future is a unique, at times upsetting blend of nebulous whimsy and perceptive soul-searching.
July’s movie takes place in the anonymous blocks of her hometown, Los Angeles, where two fickle 35-year-olds decide to adopt a sick and injured street cat, a decision perhaps to dabble into the responsibilities of adulthood. The cat could stand for the child these two are both unready to have. But their decision to adopt changes their perspective on life and radically motivates them to survey their daily habits. The couple drops their everyday routines (9-5 jobs, regular internet use, etc) and plan a month of freedom—thirty days of irresponsibility and/or change, before the cat is released from doctor’s care and will enter into their lives, with them left to care for it.
July gives the pic a radical, otherworldly twist literally altering the course of time and space and testing the couple’s faith in each other and themselves. The movie is framed by narration from Paw Paw, the cat in question (voiced by July). With only its two front paws visible, our feline narrator shares its thoughts about life, death, hope and dreams, a whimsical choice made possible through a series of wistful monologues.
Unlike her feature debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, a film fastened on discovering love, The Future shifts to what happens to most of us once we’ve found that love. Most couples settle, and take for granted what it is they have. They are held together by habit, by familiarity and security.
Me and You and Everybody We Know was a zany comedy about human connection; The Future, by contrast, is about human disconnection. An early shot of our couple, Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) sitting up on their couch, each buried in their work, tells us everything we need to know right away: they are connected in habit but not in spirit. These passive-aggressive hipsters drift through life seemingly content with their lives, but only because nothing has yet interrupted their daily rituals. Sophie and Jason have only been together for years, but they live in a sort of indefinite present tense.
With their thirty day retreat, the couple slowly find themselves preoccupied with new discoveries, hobbies, friends, lovers, volunteer work and more, slowly drifting the once attached by the hips duet, further and further apart.
And then the surreal aspects crop up. Jason finds himself able to arrest the aimless meandering of his life by stopping time himself. As he moves sideways from the flow of time, a philosophical moon begins to speak to him, offering advice. In what looks like some bizarre animated sequence come to life, Sophie buries herself in an oversized T-shirt, and the shirt, acting as a doppelgänger, begins magically walking about. Sophie does this after several unsuccessful Youtube recordings of her dancing. She is insecure, and never satisfied with her performance. But once she disappears inside the t-shirt, she dazzles us with the most outlandish payoff of the film and perhaps one of the most memorable scenes of any film this year. The T-shirt acts as a safety blanket, concealing her from the rest of the world. When she is not seen, she is able to let herself go.
These anti-literal aspects of The Future might be described as nonsense, but adventurous movie-goers will admire July’s ability as a director to blend odd humour with deep, difficult emotion. The Future is so patently unusual that you might expect the film to fail under the weight of its own whimsy, but instead it succeeds. July is fearless in her execution, proving that she’s a bona fide filmmaker, with the ability to tackle the absurdities of life in wonderful and inventive new ways. In one such scene, after failing to becoming a YouTube sensation, Sophie accepts a job as receptionist at her old studio. While greeting the guests, instead of worrying about herself getting older like so many of us do, she instead imagines the young students growing up right before her eyes. In another scene, Jason buys a used hairdryer from an old man on Craigslist. The purchase leads to a unlikely new friendship between the two. A little girl buries herself up to her neck in sand and sleeps there overnight, yet the dad never questions her choice to do so. Parallel worlds, alternate lives, second personalities; what does it all mean? What you should be asking is what you feel. These vignettes in all their strange and funny ways simply illuminate everyday earthbound human emotions we all experience.
If you can get past the faux-naivete of its grown-up characters and its deadpan tone, The Future is well worth your time, and will have you thinking back on it again and again. The Future may be arty, but it is never pretentious but rather sweet and zealous. Another filmmaker might have told the tale of this love triangle in a straightforward fashion – in a way we’ve all seen before, time and time again. But July is ambitious, daring and too talented to do so.
The Future ends precisely on the edge with love wavering in the balance. There are no clear answers, no easy resolution, but one thing is for certain, Sophie and Jason’s relationship will never be the same. The film’s final image gives us a glimpse of the possibility of a future without love, but we’ll never know.