By Kim Voynar

Sundance Review: The Future

What do you do when you’re paralyzed by fear of failing, of moving forward into the future, of getting older? Of facing the fact that you have a finite amount of time to do everything you ever wanted to do, or thought you would do with your life, but realizing suddenly that you’re nearing the mid-point of your life and running out of time in which to do it? Is your life something you’re really living, or just barely surviving?

In Miranda July’s latest film, The Future, Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), a couple who’ve been together for four years, are facing just such an existential crisis, spurred in part by their decision to adopt an injured cat. The cat has to stay at the vet for a month to recover, but Sophie and Jason agree to adopt the cat, who they’ve named Paw Paw, upon his release. The cat, they figure, is in such bad shape it’s unlikely to survive more than six months. And anyone can handle six months of responsibility, right? But when the vet informs them Paw Paw might live another five years with excellent care, Sophie and Jason are struck numb with the weight of the responsibility they’ve agreed to take on.

Who’s going to stay home and take care of Paw Paw all day? What if Jason doesn’t want to do his crappy work-from-home tech support job for another five years? How will either of them ever be able to pursue and fulfill their creative dreams with the weight of Paw Paw holding them back? A calendar on a wall, marking the days until Paw Paw becomes a full-time member of their family, is a sword of Damocles hanging over the tenuous comfort level of Sophie and Jason’s lives, while Paw Paw himself commentates all that transpires from the perspective of a never-loved being who dares, tenuously, to believe love and security might at long last be his.

On the one hand, I know a lot of film critics tend to find July too out there and even pretentious, and that The Future could be (heck, will be) seen as overly artsy and precious in its approach by some. Particularly for those who enjoyed her first film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, the stylistic approach July takes with The Future might be seen as to great a departure from what worked well with that film.
The Future, though, has much more in common with July’s performance art and especially with her book of short fiction, No One Belongs Here More Than You, than with her previous film.

The Future isn’t your typical indie about a bunch of morose 20 or 30-somethings sitting around smoking pot and bemoaning growing up; or rather, it is kind of that, but July’s approach here is to examine this idea from the viewpoint of this couple who longs to create but has allowed themselves to be completely stifled by their own choices. Sophie and Jason express their creativity in cutesy ways with each other, in that private, inside-jokeish way that couples do when they’re alone, but neither of them has dared to put their creativity into the greater world for others to judge.

The internet and the way in which people throw pieces of themselves out there to see what sticks is one of the issues July is exploring here (this was also a theme in Me and You and Everyone We Know); has the internet been a boon for creative, artsy types in that it allows them to put their work out there for many others to see, or is it more just a distraction filled with so many voices it’s impossible to rise above the fray?

The internet is also a distraction, and while it allows us to stay connected on one level, on the other it’s a wall of impersonality we’ve put between ourselves and others. This theme of connections and disconnections between the self and others permeates July’s work generally, but especially in The Future, which feels to me like a more personal, risky work for July as a filmmaker than her last film. Art is deeply personal to the artist, but if the artist wants others to see her work, she has to take a leap and risk colossal failure, and this is something I expect July is intimately familiar with, given that a lot of her art in its various forms tends toward the quirky, with unexpected sharp edges that have a way of suddenly poking the viewer or the reader, pushing a button at some emotional center they perhaps didn’t even know they had.

The Future does veer a bit into the realm of the fantastical, but for me it worked very well. July is one of those rare artists who’s able to express herself creatively in a variety of media, and therefore her growth as a director can’t really be tracked so much from movie to movie as it can be from expression to expression: A movie, a performance art piece, an exhibition like the angst-ridden, existential “The Hallway” and her brilliant gem of a book of short fiction — all of these tend to express in one way or another ideas about people connecting or disconnecting with other in various forms, or to deal with existential issues that reflect much of what July perhaps observes both in herself and in the world around her. She works in so many creative realms, it’s practically impossible to box expectations of any given work by July based on the last thing she did in that particular medium.

On the other hand, The Future, I think, also appeals well to those completely unfamiliar with her work at all, because taken as a standalone piece it’s a profoundly sad and thoughtful examination of what it means to be an artist, paralyzed, trembling, afraid to take that leap off the ledge. July has stood on many ledges, and taken many a leap, and there’s a lot of truth and meaning gleaned from those leaps she’s taken — and those, perhaps, that she hasn’t — under The Future‘s quirky exterior.

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One Response to “Sundance Review: The Future”

  1. Direwolf says:

    Thanks, Kim.

    I saw The Future on Friday at Eccles and was a bit confused but felt I had seen an interesting and well done film. Never saw July’s other film. This backstory of her is helpful.

    Also saw Perfect Sense at Eccles on Saturday. Really interesting and I understand your love for it. Reminded me at times of Children of Men (which I love) but at other times not.


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“But okay, I promise you now that if I ever retire again, I’m going to ensure that I can’t walk it back. I’ll post a series of the most disgusting, offensive, outrageous statements you can ever imagine. That way it will be impossible for me to ever be employed again. No one is going to take my calls. No one is going to want to be seen with me. Oh, it will be scorched earth. I will have torched everything. I’m going to flame out in the most legendary fashion.”
~ Steven Soderbergh

I feel strongly connected to young cinephile culture. The thing about filmmaking—and cinephilia—is that you can’t keep hanging out with your own age group as you get older. They drop off, move somewhere. You can’t put together a crew of sixty-somethings. It’s the same for cinephilia: my original set of cinephile friends are watching DVDs at home or delving into 1958 episodes of ‘Gunsmoke,’ something like that. The people who are out there tend to be young, and I happen to be doing the same thing still, so it’s natural that I move in their circles.

In terms of the filmmaking, there was a gear shift: my first movies focused on people around my age, and I followed them for three films. Until The Unspeakable Act, I was using the same actors, not because of an affinity for people at a specific age, but because of my affinity for the actors. I like to work with actors a second time, especially if I don’t feel confident casting a new film. But The Unspeakable Act was a different script, and I had to cast all new people. Even for the older roles, I couldn’t get the people I’d worked with before. But when it was over, the same thing happened: I wanted to work with Tallie again in the worst way, and I started the process all over again.

I think Rohmer did something similar around the time of Perceval and Catherine de HeilbronnHe developed new groups of people that he liked to work with. These gear shifts are natural. Even if you want to follow certain actors to the end of their life (which I kind of do) the variety of ideas that you generate makes it necessary to change. And once you’ve made the change, you’ve got all these new people around.”
~ Dan Sallitt