The Future begins one afternoon on a sofa. Sophie and Jason, a 30-something couple in Los Angeles, realize that in one month, their lives will change radically when they pick up a stray cat they’re adopting. Wanting to take advantage of their fleeting freedom, they quit their jobs, disconnect their Internet, and pursue new interests, all of which literally alter the course of time and space and test their faith in each other and themselves.
Miranda July’s work slips and slides whenever you try to pin it down. A truly original voice, she has an uncanny intuition for playful, figurative storytelling.The Future is narrated by a cat. One night Jason freezes time and talks with the moon. Sophie decides to settle with an older man in suburbia as if she were shopping for a potential future: trying it on to see if it fits. An exhilarating, funny, and wildly inventive second feature, The Future reflects a profound understanding of the existential fears that accompany relationships. –Sundance Film Festival
Is That All There Is? Milking Life for More
By A. O. SCOTT
Published: July 28, 2011
o appreciate “The Future,” Miranda July’s ingeniously constructed wonder cabinet of a movie, you may first have to pass through a stage of mild annoyance or even something more intense. A recentprofile in The New York Times Magazine depicted Ms. July — a quiet figure on the screen and a thoughtful, witty presence on the page — as an improbably polarizing filmmaker, as likely to be scorned for her supposed preciosity as celebrated for her ingenuity. And the first part of “The Future” seems, quite deliberately, to test the spectrum of audience response. Are you curious? Enchanted? Frustrated? All of the above?
Miranda July Is Totally Not Kidding (July 17, 2011)
Miranda July and Hamish Linklater as a couple in crisis in “The Future,” a film tinged with whimsy and difficult emotion.
The two main characters, Sophie and Jason, a Los Angeles couple played by Ms. July and Hamish Linklater, are sweet and sincere, but also maddeningly passive, and their tentative, timid approach to their own lives might inspire equal measures of protectiveness and impatience. We first see them on the couch of their modest, bohemian apartment, each with a laptop, looking more like twins or a shaggy, bony, two-headed creature than like romantic cohabitants.
Sophie and Jason dwell in a state of becalmed, bemused anxiety. Though they are well into their 30s and measure the span of their relationship in years, they seem as shy and unworldly as children, passive-aggressively resisting the demands and enticements of adulthood. Sophie teaches dance classes for toddlers, Jason has a low-level tech job helping confused consumers troubleshoot over the phone, and the two of them, individually and as a pair, occasionally glance at a vague and receding horizon of ambition, artistic and otherwise.
“I thought by now I would have done more,” Jason says. “I thought I’d be a world leader.” There is enough ironic self-awareness in this observation to make it funny, and enough sincere, self-deluded disappointment to make it sad and a bit irritating.
Ms. July subjects her characters — which is to say herself — to tactful satire without denying them sympathy. Sophie and Jason’s gentle, melancholy, cautious engagement with each other and with their own experience is self-conscious, but it also feels like an authentic response to the confusion and anomie that run like invisible threads through so much of American life.
Their scruffy, comfortable home, decorated with hippopotamus figurines and Escher prints, stocked with vintage-y clothes and rescued furniture, is a shrine to fading ideals of specialness. Their need to find and nurture a sense of uniqueness has led them into a state of quiet panic and paralysis — and also, perhaps, to the Etsy Web site, where you can purchase the handmade or handed-down accouterments of eccentric individuality.
But “The Future” is much more than a precise, deadpan portrait of a sensibility likely to be recognizable to the Sophies and the Jasons in the audience (or to anyone who has run into them at the local coffee shop, organic bakery or artisanal ice cream truck). Ms. July’s gift as a filmmaker, very much evident in her first feature, “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” lies in her ability to will the prosaic facts of the world into a condition of wonder. The anti-literal aspects of “The Future” might be described as surrealism, magic realism or Jabberwockian nonsense, but none of these terms quite capture her ability to blend whimsy and difficult emotion.
“The Future” begins with narration supplied in the scratchy, high-pitched voice of a cat. This creature, a wounded, sickly stray known as Paw-Paw, is in an animal shelter, waiting for Jason and Sophie to adopt him. He represents their long-deferred acceptance of adult responsibility, and a chance to break out of the malaise of waiting around for something to happen. In the month before they take their new pet home — where they will provide him, above all, with a comfortable place to die — Jason and Sophie set out to make up for lost time. They quit their jobs, and Jason volunteers for an environmental organization, while Sophie sets out to record a series of dances that she hopes will bring her recognition on the Internet.
Their forays into art and activism have mixed results, but “The Future” itself blossoms into something affecting and peculiar. In addition to the talking cat, there is a talking moon, a T-shirt that moves on its own and Jason’s sudden discovery of the power to stop time. These phenomena coexist with a more mundane story of betrayal and disappointment: a funny-sad relationship drama about love gone astray. Sophie, drifting away from Jason (and perhaps feeling the stirrings of a buried maternal instinct awakened by Paw-Paw), stumbles into an affair with Marshall (David Warshofsky), a suburban dad whose main virtue seems to be his easy tolerance of eccentricity.
Another filmmaker might have told the tale of this love triangle in a straightforward fashion, putting together yet another mild, mopey movie about a young couple in crisis. But the magical, metaphorical strain in “The Future” is what makes it powerful, unsettling and strange, as well as charming. The everyday fears and frustrations that shadow us on our awkward trip through the life cycle often feel enormous, even cosmic, and Ms. July has the audacity to find images and situations that give form to those metaphysical inklings. (“Another Earth,” Mike Cahill and Brit Marling’s new film, does something similar, using the speculative motifs of science fiction to illuminate earthbound human emotions.)
The complexity of “The Future” is contained in its title, which refers simultaneously to a terrifying abstraction — an unknowable territory bounded by death, eternity, the end of time — and to a concrete, trivial fact. What are you going to do next? It’s a huge, scary question, but the answer is usually to be small and specific. Use your imagination. Go see this movie.
The Guardian, Thursday 3 November 2011
There are some film-makers who are infuriated by the Teflon sensibility of modern cinema audiences and go all out for something that will stick, or get a reaction: astonishment, outrage, a seat-bang, a walkout, anything. Gaspar Noé described how, in his legendary shocker Irréversible, he deliberately used a droning frequency that causes nausea for background white noise. Artist-turned-film-maker Miranda July, renowned for her fey and quirky style, may be part of this tradition, simply by being 20 times more irritating than any normal person can stand.
There is an extraordinary fingernails-down-the-blackboard-up-to-11 quality here, especially in the massively cutesy opening moments of her new film, The Future. But I admit to seeing a deliberate point to it: partly satirical, partly an exercise in pop art amplification. What Jeff Koons does to banal objects, Miranda July does to banal situations, feelings, conversations. It’s a kind of affectless sentimentalism, and a commentary on the nature of coupledom, its secular theology. What happens when people in a relationship catch each other’s eye and wonder: what is the point of our lives? If what you believe in is the primacy of relationships, then what happens to your belief system when your relationship dies – or, worse, when you can see that your relationship is going dead but that staying inside it is safer and more comforting than being alone?
July and Hamish Linklater play Sophie and Jason, a couple of low-key urban hipsters who live in Los Angeles. They are educated and smart, but intensely aware that in their mid-30s, they are still in jobs that do not satisfy them. She teaches dance to toddlers, and he works from home, giving tech support to computer users: a dedicated landline rings in their shared apartment, and he takes the call with a special headset. If these are just stopgap jobs, then it isn’t at all clear what their overall career game-plan is. Our very first view of Sophie and Jason shows them on a couch, staring at their respective laptops, and then going into some excruciatingly sweet shared joke about being able to “stop time”.
They are a little like Burt and Verona, the couple in the Sam Mendes comedy Away We Go, co-scripted by Dave Eggers: their conversation, their very mode of being, appears to have a throwaway lightness to it. But Sophie and Jason are experiencing a crisis about their life choices and about the future itself. They have impulsively decided to “adopt” a cat from a nearby animal hospital, a cat with an injured paw that is not ready to be released from medical care for another month – a period of grace that allows the couple to reflect on the implications of their commitment. They will have to look after the animal, to stay home a lot, for about five years, at which time they will be around 40 and their lives will be over. Quietly, but distinctly, they start to panic about what it all means. This shiver of existential anxiety causes the pair to ricochet off in various directions: Jason becomes a desultory environmental campaigner and forms an unlikely friendship with an old man; Sophie finds a phone number written on the back of the sentimental drawing the couple bought at the animal centre, and a dangerous liaison follows from that. And their cat provides an eerie, creepy, miaowy narration on it all, provided off-camera by July herself.
The elephant in the living room would appear to be children: Jason and Sophie don’t have any, and perhaps the cat is a substitute. What becomes clear is that they themselves are childlike, in a way that is not necessarily connected with not having children themselves. They have each formed relationships with people who are considerably older, but this throws into perspective the fact that they themselves are distinctly, weirdly un-adult. And there are some very adult life-events coming their way.
The Future reminded me of Douglas Coupland’s novel Miss Wyoming, in which one character says he is 37 years old, and at this age “you’ve pretty much felt all the emotions you’re ever likely to feel, and from here on it’s reruns. And that totally scares me.” It’s flippantly phrased, and yet it touches a raw nerve of fear, perhaps because it is true. Jason and Sophie face what they think is a future of reruns, presided over by this absurd cat – a preposterous domestic idol – in which they have, almost accidentally, invested every penny of their emotional capital.
It is a very bizarre and pessimistic film, in many ways, whose cutesy idiom deliberately cloys, an idiom that refocuses your attention on our emotions and feelings, and questions their banality. If we live our lives as intelligent, 21st-century consumers, without religion, or high culture, or a great cause – all things about which we have a well-founded and highly developed scepticism – then what do our lives look like? Like a sugary Woolworths picture of a sweet little cat with an injured paw? July’s film-making is a taste I have yet fully to acquire, but she has a distinctive vision, a style, placed before you on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. I took it.