When I step back and think about it, many films don’t present a believable world of consequences. There are too many moments when an eloquent speech can undo wrongs that have been done, convincing another to bestow a second (or third, or…) chance that’s otherwise unearned. Too many endings come together only because that’s what the audience wants to see. In her new film The Future, which opens in Seattle today, writer-director Miranda July shows that she can distill a story into an arc without having all of its elements come together in this overly tidy way. She understands fallout. And her approach lets the viewer come away with more to think about for it.
July also stars in the film as Sophie, a children’s dance teacher who doesn’t much seem to like children, or teaching, and maybe only likes dance because a creative type is supposed to have some preferred medium of expression. Sophie lives with her boyfriend Jason (Hamish Linklater) who works from home as the voice on the other end of the IT help line. They seem to have a good relationship; we see that they feel comfortable being weird around each other, in the best way possible, doing things like playfully pretending to be frozen in time. Each goes along with the other’s quirks. They love each other, and they like each other, too.
Unfortunately, even solid things can be shaken by enough pressure, and Sophie and Jason let themselves succumb to the most unavoidable of pressures: getting older. It all starts with a decision to adopt a stray cat. The cat needs medical care, so the pair must wait 30 days until it comes home with them. This waiting period somehow quickly takes on an intense amount of significance: their last period of time before committing to caring for this creature—an action that, in a bizarre bit of a domino symbolism, for them represents the beginning of the end of their lives. At age 35.
With only 30 days left to embrace life, Sophie and Jason quit their jobs and start looking for signs. Letting the universe make your choices for you can lead to some interesting things, and they each find people who might not have otherwise been of any significance to them seeming to represent something important. But exploring new avenues can mean danger for what you’re leaving behind. With these individual experiences taking on such meaning, Sophie and Jason see their own connection changing.
This all sounds very dramatic, but the film has many great moments of comedy, and dips into the fantastical as well. We know that the paranoia that Sophie and Jason feel about the “impending” end of their lives is silly, and the film is full of clever, almost-satirical bites of dialogue that let us laugh, but always while still taking the characters seriously. And then there’s the cat… Between watching this couple’s misadventures, we also flash back to the cat that waits for them, called Paw-Paw. Seeing only two front paws in a cage, one wrapped in bandages, we hear the cat’s inner monologue, wondering if these people will really return. It’s weird, and it worked for me. July doesn’t shy away from absurdity. She also demonstrates that absurdity can be real and serious and humorous all at once, like life, like our own inner monologues.
Truly, I’m not usually a sucker for quirky fare. But I am a Miranda July fan. She writes the offbeat with a grounded, observant tone that I find engrossing. Her characters are oddballs only in that they do and say out in the open the things most of us keep to ourselves. July’s short stories also often have a vague element of fantasy in them, and with The Future she shows that she can bring that juxtaposition into film successfully. Besides the interludes with Paw-Paw, the film plays with the passage of time, until a climactic moment when all rules of physics mean nothing compared to the will of a bursting heart. Forays into magical realism in the middle of a dramedy about a relationship are obviously risky business, but this isn’t a meandering, because-I-can interlude. July tackles putting messy, abstract feelings on screen by letting the overwhelming power these feelings can wield seep into the physical world, changing its rules. It’s beautiful, and she and Linklater play the emotions perfectly.
The story July tells here, in all its detailed specificity, retains a universal element that sticks with the viewer afterward. We’ve all had an experience where something that feels like a fresh, present wound to us is somehow only part of the past to the other involved party. We’ve all gone down a “what if” path only to end up wondering why we did. We’ve all felt older than our years. And certainly, we’ve all panicked about the unknown of the future. Whatever lessons we learn, most of us will probably keep doing so. If it leads to works like this, I’m okay with that.
Final Grade: A