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Monday Movies Wishes We Were One Notch Prettier

Let’s hear, via the Dinner Party Download, what Miranda July (who is Totally Not Kidding) has to say about her new movie The Future (interview at 6:25):

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/www_publicradio/tools/media_player/syndicate.php?name=minnesota/news/features/2011/08/19/dpd_20110819_64

Brendan Francis Newnam: And I’m here to interview you about your new movie, The Future, and I was wondering if you could tell me what it’s about. It’s a simple one.
Miranda July: I’m the worst at this. I managed to get through the whole process without ever being good at describing it. It’s about a couple who’s getting ready to adopt a cat. And this shifts their perspective about time and space. That’s not even accurate.
BFN: That’s sort of accurate.
MJ: I think the problem is that the things that I make, like, the stories are often sort of boring or even a little, kinda clunky. So that any sort of grace or even excellence comes more from the inner world of the characters and how that’s shown. So it doesn’t work at the pitch level.
BFN: No, it didn’t.

Richard Brody, the New Yorker‘s film blogger, was enraptured with The Future, and praised it in a series of posts, one of which was called Future Shock and another of which was called “Future” Shock. One of the things I like about Brody is his defense, in the quoteless entry, of one of July’s more gimmicky conceits, placing it and the resistance to it among filmgoers alongside Terence Malick’s “more visionary images”.

In The Future, July’s character Sophie and her boyfriend Jason (Hamish Linklater) learn they must wait 30 days before bringing their cat home from a shelter. He can’t leave until a cast is off his leg, but if they’re at all late picking him up, he’ll be euthanized. (This makes no sense. It’s okay. As Brody points out, it’s the McGuffin.) Throughout the film, the cat, Paw Paw, represented in puppet form as one hairy paw and one bandaged, addresses the viewer in July’s voice run through some kind of filter.  The cat’s language is simple and direct yet stylized: “Have you ever been outside?” Lived outside, he means. “Then you know about the darkness that is inappropriate to talk about.”

There’s an old cliché that you can tell a movie’s truly dark if the dog dies. (Consider the tunnel blast in Independence Day — Harvey Fierstein goes up in flames, but the golden retriever ducks into a doorway that was cut into the 2nd Street tunnel for that sole purpose.) Well, the cat dies. Brody:

But it speaks from the beyond (“No more ‘cat,’ no more ‘I’ ”), bringing to the film a transcendental version of what Sophie and Jason are enduring together, a life that can’t begin until it’s utterly devastated and emptied of hope. The cat is the voice of selflessness, of the infra-human and the super-human, of the shattered identity and the uniting oversoul.

Not only is he generous in a way I admire, I think he’s right, too. It reminds me of the singalong and the rain of frogs in Magnolia; one friend of mine objected, “you only get one!” but the complaint reflects a discomfort with artistic overreach that I don’t find useful.

I think The Future is fully rescued from the charge of tweeness. There is, of course, a child in The Future, a spookily wise child, even. But she’s not a redemptive figure. There isn’t one for Sophie or Jason. They let the cat die.

They originally plan to use their 30-day reprieve to redeem their lives — Sophie to create a series of dances, Jason to be alert to possibility. Their failures are instructive. Jason’s alertness is at first genuine and opens possibilities — but comprises a fatal unawareness of Sophie. And Sophie’s efforts at art-making, like every single day this summer that I’ve sat down to crack the outline of my feature, are frustrated. The dance comes, though, finally, after a dark moment, once she finds herself trapped in a giant T-shirt that has pursued her through all of her attempts to escape herself.

Sophie and Jason aren’t people I want to be around. Their discomfort with themselves triggers my own. There’s no wish-fulfillment in watching them crawl deeper into their inertia, not on any sensitive-artist hipster level I can think of. But there’s all too much to identify with.

Artists are told constantly to move past fear. Buddhist teacher Pema Chodrön teaches that it’s equally important to move past hope. Both bring you out of the present. “Abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning.” The Future is about the present. Abandon hope. Let the cat die.

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August 29, 2011 - Posted by | Monday Movies | , , ,

6 Comments

  1. My wife and I watched the Coen Brothers version of True Grit. This was likely our last Netflix DVD, as they have made their famous decision to force subscribers to choose between the “one DVD at a time” option, the unlimited streaming option or paying $15.98 for both. We’ve chosen streaming.

    Anyway, I suspect this movie follows a pattern I’ve noticed in Coen Brothers movies. To me, they are often agreeable enough on the first viewing, but I only realize how much I truly enjoy them after multiple viewings. This has been the case for O Brother, Where Art Thou, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski and Fargo. Maybe I just don’t pay close enough attention the first time I watch a movie.

    That may be especially true in this instance, as I couldn’t help but wrap up a particularly satisfying comeback in Words With Friends as the movie was playing. What’s worse is I realized this was during the speech in which Rooster Cogburn talks about why they must quit their search for Tom Chaney, probably a pivotal point in the movie. Damn technology and its distractions.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | August 29, 2011

  2. Reviewers should make more puns on July’s last name.

    Comment by John Emerson | August 29, 2011

  3. “He can’t leave until a cast is off his leg, but if they’re at all late picking him up, he’ll be euthanized. (This makes no sense. It’s okay. As Brody points out, it’s the McGuffin.)”

    Not that far from reality, especially in the south and NYC. And, of course, the cat wouldn’t be euthanized: he’d be killed–there’s an important difference between the two.

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | August 29, 2011

  4. Craig, are you saying that the method that shelters use to kill unwanted animals is very different from that used to put down beloved pets? Or that neither qualifies as the “good death” that we imagine our animals experience? I am ignorant on this point.

    Its perverse, sadly not unbelievably so, that a shelter would spend money on the care needed to rehabilitate an animal, then kill it if people who had already come once to take it home were late. How close is this to reality?

    Comment by Josh K-sky | August 29, 2011

  5. No, I’m saying that euthanasia is a killing in the interest of the creature being killed. The cat in the movie (from your description) is not being killed in its interest; it’s just straight up killing, which is the norm in so-called shelters. Although, it could be the case that they are killed differently in most shelters versus veterinary facilities. In Canada, at least, it is normal to use T-61 rather than Euthasol.

    Someone posts the dog and cat “kill list” at the NYC shelter everyday on Twitter. Take a look at the animals being killed daily and why. It’s rare to find an animal killed because it is in their best interest.

    Generally speaking, more than half of cats going into shelters killed–likely in the range of 80-90% in many places. Dogs fare somewhat better, but significant numbers are just killed.

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | August 29, 2011

  6. I read something good about July’s movies last week, but I forget where and exactly what. I think it might have been that July makes mirrors (including the one before this), that when you are watching a July movie, you are really watching yourself watch the movie, in other words, always calibrating your reaction.

    8/22/11 – Unstoppable – Scott 2010 meh 6/10

    8/23/11 – My Neighbor’s Wife and Mine – Gosho Heinosuke 1931 6/10
    1st Japan talkie;slightly meta and self-referential about mogo

    8/25-26 – Kwaidan – Kobayashi 1964 7/10
    a little disappointing, about narrative as much as the scares

    8/26/11 – The Crazy Family – Sogo Ishii 1985 7/10
    hilarious dark comedy, family goes after each other with chainsaws and carving knives

    8/27/11 – Peppermint Candy – Lee Chang-dong 1999 8/10
    starts with a suicide, works backwards; little bit like Betrayal, innocence lost; the history metaphor is overrated; and SK is pretty damn ugly and depressing to me

    8/28/11 – Zatoichi – Kitano 2003 9/10
    bloody ultra-violent fast-edit comedy;this guy’s a genius; sound direction and choreography as a key to chambara alluded to throughout;Tadanobu Asano as bad guy #1 an absolute stud; just so many terrific secondary characters and subplots;last line:”Even with my eyes wide open I can’t see a thing.” makes one want to immediately watch it again for a layer of meta

    Comment by bob mcmanus | August 29, 2011


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