Dir. Miranda July
(2011, R, 91 min)
I saw Miranda July‘s first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know, when it was released in 2005, and I was enchanted by its unique perspective on human connection. But six years passed before July wrote, directed, and starred in her second film, The Future, which flew under the radar when it was released, appropriately enough, last July. It’s not as good as Me and You. Expanded from a one-woman performance piece she developed, it’s even quirkier, to the point of sometimes getting in the way of its characters and themes – for example, the narrator is a terminally ill cat named Paw-Paw. One has to push through walls of strangeness to get to the film’s humanity, but once we do we find a resonating compassion.
At the heart of the film is the relationship between Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), a pair of Los Angeles thirtysomethings getting a jump on their midlife crises. They’re about to adopt Paw-Paw, who is not expected to live very long, but compassion for a poor, unfortunate animal is not their primary motivation. What they’re really looking for is a short commitment, so when they’re told the cat could live as long as five years in their care, they panic. In five years, they’ll be forty, and it’ll be too late to make something of their lives. What follows is a series of fumbles and missteps as the pair wander about in search of purpose, but not knowing where to find it, or how, or why. They say life is what happens while you’re making plans. This film is about characters who are planning to make plans.
I rented The Future on DVD and watched it a second time with the audio commentary by July, and an additional viewing makes a significant difference. The idiosyncrasies that felt alienating at first – the talking cat, a talking moon, a crawling t-shirt – are easier to reconcile. Some of them still don’t work – the significance of a little girl sleeping in a hole is still a mystery to me – but other magical realist touches are even better upon reflection. There is a turning point at which Jason decides he must stop time, and later struggles to start it back up again. Was this supposed to be taken literally, I wondered at first. In such a film by such a director, it may as well be taken literally, but it’s also a poetic way to describe how heartbreak can bring your life to a halt. You can’t move beyond that moment, don’t want to, but eventually you have to. That’s reflective of the entire film; Sophie and Justin are standing still for fear of moving forward, but finally they move forward for fear of standing still.