Miranda July’s “The Future” is a smart film in more ways than one.
At once it’s a film that cleverly frees itself entirely from any criticism it might receive; “The Future” tells what seems to be a highly autobiographical (albeit fantastical) version of its creator’s life. To subject it to normative standards of conventional films would be like accusing someone’s family photo album of being a pretentious mess.
It’s unreasonable to slam another person’s opinion, and “The Future” is not so much a film as it is a deep expository peep into the ticking that makes Ms. July tock as she firmly cements herself as the film’s sole creative (and driving) force. She writes, directs and stars in a narrative that prides itself on its own reflective, musing qualities versus actively being “about” much at all.
To summarize the plot of “The Future” would be to suggest there is a concrete one at the film’s core in the first place. Instead the film plays like a barrage of off-the-wall happenings strung together by an equally odd overarching narration from a feline’s perspective.
The cat in question, named Paw Paw, is a rescue animal in residence at a local animal shelter. Sophie (Ms. July) and her boyfriend of four years, Jason (Hamish Linklater), adopt Paw Paw under one condition; she must remain at the shelter until she’s fully recovered, which could take up to 30 days.
Those 30 days become the film’s focus, over the course of which Sophie and Jason undergo drastic alterations to their daily lives. Sophie is a dance instructor, bored with her job and made to feel inferior by her coworkers who, in their spare time, enjoy posting sexy videos of themselves on YouTube and boasting about the 10,000 viewers they’ve aroused. Jason is a tech support specialist working from home. Both are over thirty, but not quite over the hill as of yet. Still, a hint of adolescent anxieties concerning fears of aging and domestic responsibility (the “anchor of life,” if you will) persist as they come to learn that Paw Paw’s illness will afford her with, according to the veterinarian, a maximum of five years to live.
“We’ll be forty in five years,” Jason says. “Forty is the new fifty, and the rest is loose change.”
As byproducts of the digital age, the couple spends most of their time lounging around the house on their computers, connected to the outside world through the internet and telephone; not entirely foreign to today’s digital culture, but this makes it easy to see how 35 years of life could pass them by so quickly.
The territory Ms. July takes the audience into isn’t altogether revolutionary; fantastical representations of subjectivity are commonplace in mainstream cinema. Just take a look at Michel Gondry’s 2004 masterpiece “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or even, to an extent, Darren Aronofsky’s deeply disturbing “Black Swan,” released last year. Those films expose their characters’ subjectivity more as an atmospheric compliment to the narrative whereas “The Future” exists as Ms. July’s contemplative, lyrical exposition of a deep internal space as she projects it through her characters, becoming less about how we, as an audience, “should” perceive it and more an expression of individuality on her part.
The film will appease those willing to disregard their conditioned role as active analysts and become passive cinematic receivers, because “The Future” functions best as something viewed with caution from afar.
While “The Future” will prove frustrating and baffling for a vast majority, those who will find themselves scratching their heads in disbelief and/or confusion probably aren’t going to be the ones buying a ticket to see it in the first place.
The end of the film opens more doors than it closes; we never receive a triumphant moment of closure or sense of satisfaction that what we have been watching for the past two hours has in fact ended to our liking. But Ms. July doesn’t necessarily end “The Future” as much as she simply cuts the audience loose from her fantasy, allowing us only a brief glimpse at something that is for her, as Paw Paw describes death, “only the beginning.”