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):
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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