There are only two names in American Cinema that reflect truly unique and standalone filmmaking that reflects a director pouring their inner most insecurity into their work. The first is Harmony Korine with his abrasive imagery and bizarrely accurate portrayals of the effects of those disillusioned by the American dream. The second is the director/author/musician/performance artist Miranda July whose rapidly growing cult following is becoming more evident with each film and novel she releases. Her most recent directorial offering The Future combines all the indie fueled art-house elements of her first work You, Me, And Everyone We Know (2005) along with a much heavier dose of what I can only describe as magical nihilism. For those familiar with Miranda July it is easy to expect a sad movie that leaves the characters at the most debased, showing little advancement for themselves...and humanity in general. At times, Miranda July's scathing criticism of our internet-laden society is hard to watch. Yet, as is always the case with July's work, some heartbeat ticks deep below the film making the experience transcendental causing the viewer to realize that what they have watched is much grander than a social critique. The Future is a self-reflective and fully realized poem about the tragedies of aging in a society where individuality is manufactured and intimate relationships are as much about cohabitation as they are about love. However, the nihilist that is Miranda July reminds us that no amount of change will allow us to escape from this trap and that sometimes death is a far more rewarding alternative.
The Future is a non-linear narrative of sorts and borders on being a time travel film. It begins with the introduction of a talking cat named Paw-Paw, voiced by the films director, who longingly awaits the return of her soon to be owners, a thirty something couple named Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater). The couple who was intent on adopting the cat discovers that they must wait an additional thirty days before they can take the cat, because it has suffered a rather serious fracture. Upon returning to their apartment, the couple decides that their lives are terribly uninspired for pushing forty and vow to make serious life changes before adding Paw-Paw into their lives. For Jason this means taking up environmental activism and meeting up with Joe (Joe Putterlik) an old man who sells severely used hair dryers in the penny savers and writes raunchy poetry for his wife. Incidentally, the man who inspired July's entire narrative for the film plays Joe. Sophie, on the other hand, finds herself attempting to reinvigorate a flailing dance career by performing "30 Dances for 30 Days" following the inspiration of other Youtube sensations. Sophie also finds herself entering into a sexual relationship with a divorced man named Marshall (David Warshofsky), who, while obviously only concerned with sexual conquest, provides Sophie with attention that she finds lacking in her relationship with Jason. Both Sophie and Jason continue to "find themselves" as a narrative from Paw-Paw reminds viewers that he too is awaiting a major change in his life. Happiness, tragically is not the end result for the couple, as Jason discovers Sophie's infidelities and decides to end his relationship with her, while Sophie, similarly realizes that her own eccentricities and attachments to unusual things are bizarre to Marshall, yet endearing to Jason. Sadly, the couples own turmoils cause them to forget abut Paw-Paw who was euthanized due to the couples failure to pick him up in time. As the couple notes, they both went back for the cat, yet, as is often the case in life, it was simply too late. The result leaves the viewers watching the couple return to their previous state of co-habitation as Jason literally turns the next page in their rather bleak life, implying that the future is indeed very unexciting.
As is the case with Miranda July, criticism is tricky. Her films live in a world that dances wildly between purely artistic outpouring and finely crafted social critique. However, the commentary in the film is rather apparent, given the film's title and subsequent narrative. July's work is preoccupied with living in the future and assuming stupidly that positive change will simply happen to those who wait. This is apparent in both Sophie and Jason's career choices. Sophie, an aspiring dancer, works as a children's dance instructor and shows no pride in her work and actually realizes in a rather hilarious scene that if she were to stay at the dance academy she would inevitably teach the children of the children she currently instructs. Jason's job is no more satisfying, given that he works as an at home tech-support agent. He mocks his job and is completely blocked off from the natural word, yet when he takes up his job as an environmental activist, he realizes that the rest of the world is equally indifferent and chooses to ignore nature freely. Even Paw-Paw waits illogically, he idealizes his future life with Jason and Sophie, only to realize that no matter what happens in the world only two things are for certain, darkness and light...a rather existential realization for a talking cat. Finally, in one of the films most brilliant scenes Marshall's daughter Gabriella (Isabella Acres) attempts to bury herself neck deep in the ground to grow like a tree, only to realize in the dark and cold night that she is inextricably stuck in the present and no amount of change can stop the ebb and flow of these things, except of course the work of a talking moon and the tai chi moves of Jason, but even those are futile.
I have seen The Future and it was good. The film is still making its way through some indie theaters, and is well worth checking out if you get the chance. I am certain it will make my top films of 2011 and will likely only be succeeded by Terrence Malick's Tree of Life.