Sundance 2011: Miranda July's 'The Future' is Bleak But Charming
by Ethan Anderton
January 22, 2011
While plenty of family films have tackled the fictional thoughts and activities of cats, Miranda July uses a feline to open The Future and introduce us to Sophie & Jason, a quirky couple. A voiceover is heard over pitch black in which we learn the cat is already enamored with the couple as they found her with an injured paw on the streets and immediately took her to a vet for treatment. The cat (aptly named Paw-Paw) dreams about her new human friends as they sit on the couch across from each other with laptops situated neatly on their laps while discussing mind powers and having a crane in the apartment to get water from the kitchen. This is just the beginning of the quirk within The Future.
As we soon learn, Josh (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (Miranda July) are ready to take a big step forward in their relationship. No, they're not getting engaged, nor are they going to have a baby. They've decided to adopt a cat. However, they have 30 days before the afflicted feline will be in a healthy enough condition to be sent home. Within this time frame they decide to act out some of their inner-most desires, but they don't seem to be the most ambitious of activities. Sophie, entranced by a dance studio co-worker's YouTube video, decides to make some of her own dance videos with hilarious results. Meanwhile, Josh joins an environmental campaign going door-to-door to get more trees planted around Los Angeles.
While each of them pursue these desire, it becomes clear in conversation that there's not much investment in either one of them. Though it may sound harsh, these are characters with no direction. Their conversations contain so much childlike naivete and meandering that it's hard to see why this couple is still together. But as we focus on this relationship, it's revealed, through happenings even more strange than a narrating cat (who seems to be voiced by the late Zelda Rubenstein) that this strange relationship isn't necessarily about love as much as life. Even these two characters with similar quirks can't seem to find a real common ground on which to live their life with satisfaction.
In order to fill that void, Sophie engages with an older man (an artist from which Josh purchased an illustration in the vet's office; played by David Warshofsky) and soon begins to have a sexual affair. Slowly but surely she begins to lose her childlike sensibilities in this affair. Meanwhile, Josh finds solace with an old man who talks a mile a minute and recollects on various events and objects related to his late wife (including one very sexual Christmas poem he wrote for her). Though his first visit to the old man was strange, Josh finds himself going back for more. The old man's recollection seems to bring warmth and hope for a future that will allow him to have a past that he may so fondly look back upon.
With Sophie and Josh finding solace in other people, their relationship begins to crumble from Sophie having an affiair with an older man time literally stops around them. Though it takes some reflecting to truly understand, the story aims to illustrate the limited time we have on this planet and how we choose to spend it. With plenty of metaphor and otherworldly happenings (including the narrating Paw-Paw) the film illustrates the dangers of investing so much worry and planning about the future. While Sophie seems to be the more deplorable for evading responsibility by way of an affair, Josh is equally to blame for stopping time to avoid dealing with Sophie's admission of adultery. Each of these characters are pitiful in their own way.
As the cat waits ever so patiently for this couple to come to terms with their commitment, Josh attempts to figure out how to make time move forward again with only the moon as a helpful comapnion. In the scheme of one life, a break-up is insignificant, especially when you haven't even become engaged and only discussed the possibility of adopting a cat as your first real commitment. But at the same time, after a break-up, it can feel like time has stopped while the world around you (including your ex-lover) keeps moving forward, even if you don't want to take notice. Frozen time is Josh's problem (he may have to re-start the world himself), but Sophie struggles with letting go of the past as a pitiful t-shirt, with which she used to cuddle, crawls ever so slowly to her new home with that older man.
In thinking about The Future, it's hard to sift through all the layers and metaphors, and while this film may sound a bit too artsy for some viewers' tastes, the film is absolutely hilarious, delightful and wholly fascinating. While the film is certainly artistically expressive and less conventional than July's directorial debut Me and You and Everyone We Know, for those with the patience and desire to think after the credits roll, you won't be disappointed. As for the cat from the opening of the film, she'll make you want to snuggle with your favorite feline as soon as possible.