2.5 Stars out of 4
Miranda July looks like a character who would live in The Future – a film unlike any others about its title. She does. In the film – a drama of magic realism, not sci-fi – she plays Sophie, a dancer living a life of listlessness, where time and space are hence at a standstill. She sits in her cluttered apartment with boyfriend Jason (Hamish Linklater), where they pretend that they can control time. That’s easy to do when there’s no time to handle.
The Future is probably the strangest film of the year, which could be good or bad. It’s about characters who cease to communicate through any visual or verbal language. Sophie and Jason lack expression, but have such idiosyncratic faces that their deadpan still holds a faint smile. At the centre of this peculiar story is a romance, I think. Not a romance in the Something Borrowed kind of way, but one about individuality, fears, and restlessness. None of these characters are interchangeable.
The Future, written and directed also by July, offers many fantastical elements: a narrating cat, a talking moon, and frozen time. These things want to say something about the characters but none of them come full circle because, in a way, Sophie and Jason cannot say anything about themselves. The Future amounts to a film heedless to conventional payoffs, drama, or characters because its narrative arc seems to endlessly oscillate against time. As a result, The Future might leave you suspended, and thus totally unsure what to think.
The unearthly plot: Sophie and Jason have been dating for 4 years and, as a test to its success, they choose to adopt an injured cat – the narrator named Paw Paw. They could have picked any healthy young cat, but instead wanted the odd one out, mainly because it reflected themselves and their fractured emotions. We see Paw Paw once as a full-bodied cat and the rest of the time only her two paws are shown, that waver and claw when she talks – like natural human body language. I understand why July uses Paw Paw as the narrator because the feline is the only character capable of clear verbal communication, which is undoubtedly ironic.
As The Future progresses, it offers various head scratchers that leave you with an intenser itch. Each scene is non-continuous from the last, so The Future doesn’t build but perpetually reshapes. As bizarre as the film comes, it doesn’t take much to suspend our disbelief. This is because July knows her tone, one deeply magical and sprinkling of pixie dust. When I read or watch good fantasy pieces, I immediately adapt to its world because the work is aware of its position to reality. The Future exists in a world identical to ours, but with characters who see it differently and, hence, July does too.
I think The Future is about characters who gently grace the test of time. In their adventures, Sophie will meet a single father named Marshall (David Warshofsky) whose main purpose is for Sophie to have an affair. Also, Jason will befriend Joe (Joe Putterlik) because he needs a little help from a friend. I didn’t think these characters provided much resonance because they were not “characters” like the moon and the cat. There were too normal for July’s world. Though Marshall’s daughter has an infectious quirkiness, her personality only is given one scene to come through.
You will notice as The Future writhes further down its rabbit hole, the realities of Sophie and Jason become more and more detached. This is a simple, yet poetic way of communicating a romance that falls into the dispassionate; no corny dialogue is required.
In 2005, Miranda July released her directorial debut Me and You and Everyone We Know. I haven’t seen that film, but will soon. While watching The Future, I felt I was missing a piece to the puzzle. As far as story goes, it only worked as an exercise in zaniness. July called The Future an “unconscious continuation” of her 2005 film, which is unclear to me and might answer why I found The Future to be just conscious. I liked a lot of this film, but didn’t feel my interest was rewarded. Sophie though has an adorable line on her appearance (and I paraphrase): “I am on the edge of being beautiful, but not quite,” she inflects. Little did she know she defined the film.