The Future is Now, by David Bax
Miranda July has been making art for far longer than she’s been making feature films. Her second of those, The Future, opens this week but to fully comprehend her work, you have to go back, even beyond 2004’s wonderful Me and you and Everyone We Know. Starting in 1996, she’s been creating short films, multimedia performance pieces and audio-based art that form a more complete picture of who she is.
Who she isn’t, at least traditionally, is a narrative artist. Even Me and You, despite the presence of undeniable forward momentum, is really more a series of scenes and moments than a true story. All this is preamble to two elements of The Future: the extra-narrative elements that fill it out and the fact that July has grown significantly as a storyteller.
Experimental or non-narrative filmmaking can often read as very pretentious and that’s true a lot of the time. The reason for that is the occasional lack of understanding on the part of the filmmaker that the images and sounds he or she is portraying are absurd, which means they are funny. Those who excel and make names for themselves in this field (such as July or David Lynch) do so largely because they allow and even encourage their audience to laugh at how silly it all is. The Future, just like Me and You, is a very funny film. The humor comes from unexpected, high-concept places like the fact that the whole film is narrated by the thoughts of a cat. But it also comes from well-observed, relatable human moments between characters who are not just mouthpieces for July’s strange vision but people in their own right. We can credit her as writer and director for this but also as actor, along with Hamish Linklater as her boyfriend and David Warshofsky in a role that would net a supporting actor nomination of some kind if I had any influence.
The story concerns a couple who have 30 days until they adopt a sick cat. Figuring that, at the age of 35, this will be the last month of true freedom they’ll experience, they decide to live it to the fullest. If you’re groaning at that sitcom-level premise, you’re not alone. So did I. Fortunately, it only serves as a short-lived catalyst for the story’s actual thrust, which is the self-discovery this process brings with it. Learning who you really are and what you really want, the movie suggests, can be thrilling and devastating in equal measure.
At 35, both characters are at a point where the term “midlife crisis” is, sadly, more appropriate than it is to the 45-50 year olds who usually bandy it about. They’re at a turning point where it is no longer tenable to define themselves by who they want to be or who they think they are. In order to live with honesty, both to themselves and to the rest of the world, they have to make peace with the things they truly are and the things they’ll never be, as well as with the instinctual impulses that define us at our basest: lust, pride and fear of loneliness among them.
At this point in their lives, it can no longer be acceptable for them to say that they intend to be a successful artist someday or that they won’t be working in customer service forever. The future – at least the one they’ve likely been referring to since they were children- is now. That sounds depressing and it definitely is. But, given that July is a natural optimist, it’s also freeing. If the titular future doesn’t really exist, maybe it never did. Perhaps there is and has only ever been the present and the past. So why worry about this fictional boogeyman that’s waiting for you somewhere down the line? Why not invest in the things that surround you right now, that are tangible and provable, things that you can actually experience?
Miranda July is a divisive figure. In recent years, the au courant word used to dismiss things that appeal to white, bourgeois, young adults is twee, which Webster defines as “affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute or quaint.” The word has been applied to July more than once but anyone giving her work a serious look would find such a description lacking. For one, there is nothing affected about her sensibility. She is quirky, to be sure, but there is no self-consciousness to her quirk. And her films, though they may have a minimalist streak in aesthetic terms, are far from delicate or quaint in their themes. The Future is a film about massive issues that trouble us all. It forces us to think about these things while making us laugh at the same time. If that’s cute, I’ll take it.