When we are young, we are told that we can do anything with our lives. We feel our path unfold before us, a wide expanse of possibility. However, as we get older that very freedom can become frightening, and we yearn for something calm and simple. In Miranda July’s The Future, two charmingly mundane thirty-somethings try to reclaim that freedom over the course of thirty days. Instead, they are absorbed by surprisingly affecting doldrums that are painful to witness.
The premise is elegant in its simplicity: Sophie and Jason are adopting a cat, and they must do something bold with their lives before resigning themselves as Paw Paw’s guardians. Jason quits his job and allows the universe to guide his path: he ends up going door to door, failing to sell trees in order to save the planet. Sophie quits her job and dedicates herself to a “thirty dances in thirty days” project: she is unable to finish the first dance in the series. The film drags on this way, as the cat narrates his desire to live with the depressing couple. Meanwhile, Sophie skitters aimlessly around the house and Jason trudges through the streets of Los Angeles, and the audience shares the cat’s fleeting doubts about its future happiness with the couple.
Eventually, Sophie succumbs to an affair with another man out of boredom and frustration. Traditionally, this would be the moment that the narrative sparks to life. However, the man is so dull, so utterly without charm or merit, that the film sinks into a seemingly inextricable pit of inertia. Thankfully, the movie is saved by a surreal turning point about halfway through the film. As Sophie confesses her affair, Jason literally stops time in order to prevent her from recounting the details. As Jason stumbles through a world without movement, having dissatisfied conversations with the moon, Sophie moves through an alternate timeline where she now lives with the man from the affair. Jason marches to the sea, to aid the moon in moving the waves so he can return to the world of the living. Sophie is haunted by a large yellow shirt that moves of its own free will, leading to a bizarre yet beautiful interpretive dance sequence. The two characters finally live their bold, uncommon lives through the dream world of the film, but sadness pervades all. The cat will soon be forgotten if Jason cannot return from his frozen world, if Sophie cannot pry herself from the absurdity of her new life. Moreover, the two characters remain separated so neatly that you feel their promise to the cat is the only thing keeping them from drifting apart forever.
Ultimately, The Future is a film that benefits reflection. Each moment becomes symbolic of an invisible struggle for the characters; each surreal extrapolation can be explained by subjective feeling and emotion. However, The Future remains difficult to process. The mundane first half is grueling but necessary context for the redeeming avant-garde twist of events. From the moment Jason stops time, the audience sees the artistic interpretation of the film’s reality, and it is beautiful filmmaking. For that matter, it is more narratively complex filmmaking as well. Both timelines engender a feeling of suspense for the cat’s well-being and for the couple’s relationship, in alternatively direct and indirect ways. I only wish I could see what The Future would have been had it embraced such a surreal and striking tone from its opening moments. But then again, a talking cat narrating your life is not exactly normal.
Jacob Mertens is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.