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« In Which We Turn And Face The Strange »

Heart of Chambers


The Future
dir. Miranda July
91 min

Staring at Miranda July's pleading, childlike face for an hour and a half can be a daunting task. There's something about it — much like those Sarah McLachlan ASPCA advertisements — that elicits unnatural levels of sympathy within my cold, cynical heart. I want to give her hand-crocheted tea cozies, make her a key lime pie, or just tell her it's okay, everything's going to be okay. July is all sweetness, humility, and youthful confusion, but without an obnoxious giggle or noted affectation. Her earnestness seems to breed only further earnestness, which has caused many to repel her work.

The host of haters claim that lines like, “Hi, person” spoken between girlfriend and boyfriend are unrealistic and contrived. They take issue with dancing pink shoes in her first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know, with her title choices and her outfits and that doe-eyed, bashful face. Despite how polarizing July can be, she feels authentic even if you're the kind of person who can't stand her.

The Future is a film about two mid-30s creative-types Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) who are waiting for their big moment, but are having trouble enabling it to happen. They want stability and familiarity (which leads them to adopting a cat), but they aren't certain for how long (the cat is dying). Matching MacBooks, gauzey curtains, and flea-market kitsch overrun their apartment.

The pair use the countdown to adopting their new cat as a time to shut off their internet, begin new projects (Sophie a series of dance videos, Jason a foray in environmental solicitation), and, to Jason's dismay, experiment with infidelity. While Sophie starts an affair with a wealthy suburban dad, Jason learns he can make time stand still and has conversations with old men and the moon (yes, the moon).

Paw-Paw the gray cat narrates the story, touching sagely on the range of warmth, possession, and loss we see the couple experience. Sophie moves in with her new boyfriend (David Warshofsky). She admires the 1,000 thread count sheets, walks around in a nightie, and abandons dancing. After her boyfriend’s daughter buries herself to the neck in their backyard with the plan to sleep, Sophie puts her in the bath. It is then that we see Sophie’s face betray what we’ve already concluded: there is suffocation in the comfort of luxury.

Not much later, she returns to Jason, who is cold but accepting. In their time apart, they have both unsuccessfully tried to pick up the cat — the cat has been euthanized because they were a day late in retrieving him, and everything about it is a poignantly written tragedy. The film closes as it began: two mid-30s creative-types in pajamas, quietly absorbed in their own thoughts. But they are absorbed together.

The Future isn't Away We Go, it isn't The Squid and the Whale. Unlike the many Grizzly Bear-soundtracked films that sound similar, this is not a compendium of white people problems and whining — it's a film of generous sentimentality and melancholy. It resonates so deeply that an ethereal yet honest mood exists, a mood that is only enhanced by the wonderful score of Jon Brion. The music creates caverns in which Sophie and Jason’s loneliness can nestle. At once warm and wide, Brion’s soundtrack is also disconsolate in its use of droney keyboards, which makes the score feel like a constant tribute to the film’s theme, “Master of None” by Beach House. The choice to use “Master of None” as a thread throughout the film could not have been more deliberate — it is exact in its replication of what we feel through The Future: hollow, somber, but not alone. The vast richness of The Future is in its ability to ask us what we look for at a certain age, and it does so without making generalizations and conclusions on our behalf. 

Movies like The Future merely present quandaries its intended audience already recognizes: variations of the “Where do we go/what do we do?” myth of young adulthood. Unfortunately, it is too easy to absorb-then-ignore these impasses as we watch them played out in independent films while the flood of thoughts about how we're going to be the next Basquiat, next DeLillo, or next July never ceases. It’s apparently what we do as part of a generation bound to narcissism. Sophie characterizes this self-involvement astutely when she says she'd like to start reading the news but because she's already so far behind, why should she bother?

The movie begins to feel like reality TV — a reflection of what people in their 20s and 30s go through — and it plays out like a fable without a moral. This creates disquiet in the theater. Can one take comfort or glean knowledge from a film that glimmers like a mirror? Due in full to July's astounding technique for writing human emotion in all its complicated forms, The Future shines in its use of what people can find insufferable about Miranda July's work: portraying sullen, adult truths through a lens of childlike surrealism.

Why would an adult woman call up a perfect stranger whose number is written on the back of a drawing and ask him where he lives? Why would her boyfriend have sandwiches with an old man who writes filthy limericks and then imagine the man was the voice of the moon? Who talks like that? Who dresses like that? Who makes a movie with a three-minute dance scene in which a woman writhes about completely enrobed in a T-shirt that moves on its own? Without context, all of this can appear juvenile and inchoate.

When these elements are strung together a deeper and much darker film emerges. And even if it didn’t, heaven forbid film or writing be intimate and uninhibited, for self-exposure as ripe as July's is considered shameful, perhaps even veers on appearing too feminine.

What detractors fail to identify is the overwhelming maturity in July's insistence on submitting to a tender, childlike sensibility in her work. In The Future, Sophie and Jason struggle with moving forward and becoming real people, but their recognition and gentle understanding of this problem is actually quite adult. Although a talking cat named Paw-Paw may be a hindrance for Werner Herzog disciples, perhaps it's time to find the gravity in lightness.

Dayna Evans is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her work on This Recording here. She tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about coming to America.

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Reader Comments (1)

What is authentic? And how can you categorically assert that everyone would find Ms. July so authentic?
August 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersagehoe

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