|starring Hamish Linklater, Miranda July, David Warshofsky, Isabella Acres
written and directed by Miranda July
In The Future, writer/director/star Miranda July indulges in the same wayward malaise of her previous film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, but, somewhat ironically, the focus on the uncertainty of "what comes next" makes this one seem a lot less scattershot. Dance teacher Sophie (July) and tech-support guy Jason (Hamish Linklater) have rescued a sickly cat from the wild and sent him to an animal shelter, and they've got a month until they can reclaim him. However, the cat will require 'round-the-clock care from them to stay alive, so they conclude that this is their last "free" month before years-long responsibilities squander their potential, and they quit their jobs in a bid to become more "spontaneous." Jason goes door-to-door selling trees for an environmental program and Sophie decides to film "thirty dances over thirty days" for a short-track to YouTube stardom. But neither one is prepared for the apathy and self-loathing that greets their cutesy little endeavours, and as they spin their wheels, they gravitate towards people who appear to "really have their shit together": Sophie becomes attracted to a single father with a small business (David Warshofsky), while Jason regularly visits an old man (Joe Putterlik) who once sold him a used hairdryer. What's important is that July quickly establishes that these behaviours are not a matter of self-improvement or jealousy--it's just a hell of a lot easier to stare at the lives of others and marvel at how organized they look from the outside. In other words, Sophie and Jason take no real "action" of their own accord; everything they do is just another bit of slacktivism to avoid the responsibilities for which they're supposedly preparing. Her self-esteem takes a hit as she views other women's "dancing" videos, so she cancels her Internet and calls it a great opportunity to focus. July makes this sheltered worldview all the more fascinating by introducing an element of surrealism--soon, her characters' paradoxical desires to move forward and stand still give them to power to bend the universe to their will, as an imminent break-up is stalled by the literal stoppage of time. (And yet, time still manages to march on.) The self-conscious obviousness of its metaphors give The Future a strong grounding in reality, rendering even July's silliest notions--such as a series of helium-inflected monologues from the cat himself (the only neglected "victim" in this scenario), waiting for his loving masters to return--deeply affecting.-IP
August 7, 2011|Miranda July is very much like the characters she plays, and they are very much like her: she stares at you with wide, intense eyes, and her responses trail off once she realizes that she's revealed all she wants to about a given subject. She's in town to promote her second feature film, The Future, for the Boston Independent Film Festival, and we both seem a little eager to discover if indeed this sophomore effort can be discussed at length. Over the course of our conversation, we shared a couple of awkward laughs--in mutual recognition, I think, of the inherent absurdity of this meeting; we had been tasked to interpret and explain an intentionally abstract piece dealing with moving on and growing older, about which the creator must refuse a "full" explanation. Still, though July insists on keeping some things secret, she comes across as utterly sincere--so much so that I felt a pang of remorse when I realized that I had unintentionally lied to her by not attending the festival's screening of The Future like I said I would. Several days later, given another interview opportunity for a different film, I made it a point to ask her husband Mike Mills to apologize on my behalf.
Do you believe that there exists a legitimate empathetic bond between human beings? Are human beings capable of genuine empathy?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think that the struggle towards that is at least pretty interesting. And yeah, there wouldn't be much point--I don't think we would care about anything if that wasn't so.
Is there something about strangers that fill a void that friends and family can't?
Well, I do think we get kind of locked into our own definitions of ourselves, and that strangers present--or seem to present--a way to be someone totally new. You're not expected to be the person you've been. So yeah, if you're trying to flee yourself, or unburden yourself, strangers kind of hold that promise.
Just the way that you treat these strangers in your films, there seems to be a kind of identity transference. These new people are supposed to represent someone else--someone I know, perhaps someone I don't know.
I think they often have more to do--yeah, they always have more to do with what you're hoping to find, or what you're looking for, than the people themselves. And then it's usually a surprise when someone...turn[s] out to be a whole person with all the dimensionality and needs that we're probably trying to get away from--(laughing) I mean, I'm trying to make this work for every stranger in everything I've ever made, but it doesn't work, so yeah.
In that case, do you feel pressure to be seen as an auteur?
No. I put a lot of different pressures on myself, but I never think that thought. I think that I assume that if I make it true to myself, or just really interesting to myself, then presumably it will be like me. (laughs) Like my work. Or if it's not, then maybe that's interesting too. Although I have to say I feel like I'm almost redundantly consistent in some ways. Because I'm working in all these different mediums and yet it doesn't really seem that different.
Well, like when you were talking about the strangers, I was actually thinking at one point about it--a sculptural piece that's a pedestal that is built for two strangers to hug on. And then there's also a web piece that's an assignment for the public that's--well, there's a few different ones involving strangers. So it's like, wow, even in those mediums, there are strangers. I guess that's the commonality.
So you find these common themes in retrospect, then?
Yeah. Yeah, I'd say so. Often it's even a little... frustrating, you know? You think you're breaking new ground, and usually I am, but it's not exactly where I think I am. Like the thing that's most novel I only realize in retrospect, and I'm totally forgetting that I've done certain things before--they just feel new to me.
What happens when you realize that? Do you try to put a new spin on it, or do you start from scratch?
Well, no--I think that happens because I'm the same person, and I have to look around and realize, oh wait, everyone I admire throughout history--some artists painted literally the same thing again and again. And that's fine, we love them for it. That's part of the practice, too, is that you're caught in your own self--the limitations of who you are and how you see the world are what you have to work with, and that's ultimately pretty interesting.
What is your fascination with limited perception--this concept that humanity has a limited view of the world?
I don't think I have that concept. I'm maybe sort of limited. (chuckles) Or I'm just very focused on what I'm focused on and not a whole lot else. Which I think comes down to getting a lot out of very small things. So it doesn't feel small or limited to me.
I mention that because, with The Future, with the whole cat subplot--the ending of that points to something that exists beyond this tiny little world that you seem so obsessed with. And even with your shorter work--your "button tutorial"--who am I to say that this isn't how you make a button? I don't know how to make buttons.
Right. (laughs) Yeah. Well, that is kind of how the button thing was. Just sort of like, these things exist and just what if you just wholeheartedly pretended that you could make even the simplest of things. With the cat...that was a real challenge, and it was the very last challenge of the movie, that monologue that the cat says after death. And I was like, "Fuck, how do you--I don't know, and no one else knows either, if this is true, what it looks like after we die." So I had to make it up! (laughs) But really make it up. Like nothing to go on there. And I just kept trying and trying to make it feel true, 'cause--no one knows, but everyone's gonna know if this isn't real. Somehow. So I didn't have a lot of judgment about humans, but I did want to make a sense that it wasn't all bad--dying, y'know? And that we can't see that yet, but that you would know if you had gotten to the other side. You'd have this obviously huge change in perspective, so I was trying to get that across in just a few simple words.
Miranda July in The Future
"I look at old people, older couples, like in the airport, and I think, 'When they were my age, were they thinking as hard about being old people as I am right now?'"
Why did you decide to give the cat such a physical human element? Was that you as the cat?
Ah, well, I'm not revealing that.
Okay, that's fair.
(laughs) Yeah. I think with a low-budget movie it's so pleasing if everything isn't obvious, how it's done. I have to enjoy that excitement, that mystery...When you say "human," you mean talking, like that?
Just the idea that this cat has human qualities. Do you have a specific fascination with animal neglect?
(laughs) I know! I don't know, that is one of those things where I'm looking back and I'm like, "Jesus, I'm doing this a lot." But I think it's often that we allow ourselves all this feeling with animals that gets a lot more complicated when it's with humans. So if you don't want to have people professing their love, or talking about love, but you want love to exist in a movie, and be almost tangible, and certainly something that could be lost through neglect--the cat became a way to hold all that and be kind of obvious about it. Like, not do it in a more manipulative way, where you just feel that because it's so darn cute. It's literally talking about those things, and I wanted to give it--ah, "he," I like to think of it as a "he"--a lot of dignity because of how much I had heaped onto him, so he has to be able to feel a lot.
So this tangible love that you talk about--so many of your scenarios are open-ended. With this tangible and, perhaps, unquestionable love, do you want something to be certain in your world?
When I was writing the cat--since we're on the cat--I would sometimes go through a pass writing it as a real cat, sometimes I'd write it as myself waiting for my parents, either as a child or in a way that we kind of wait forever. Even if our parents have died, I think we still are waiting for some ultimate being-taken-care-of feeling. So that, in a way, kind of took over. Almost even more than that this could be my child, or my character's future unborn child. But I was trying to make sure it checked out in all those different ways to kind of--'cause I felt like those things were important to the story, almost like backstory to the characters.
With this film specifically, there seems to be a simultaneous comfort and discomfort with the status quo. There's a desire to keep things the way they are and move on.
I think I was looking around a lot, at friends, and realizing--we all had these huge dreams in our twenties, and now we're in our thirties, and those dreams just were continuing even though clearly they weren't connecting with anything that had to do with real life for most people. And then there was the realization--especially for people who wanted to have children--that that was gonna be the thing that was really gonna make sure that those things--that this in fact was their life. That everything else they were assuming was gonna somehow magically happen. Like that there was no real reason why it would. And that this is the age where that kind of hits.
So as I'm talking about this auteurist concepts, what is it like for you to have other people put this all-encompassing perspective on your work?
Well, I think you go in and out of engagement with that. This is the time, obviously, where I'm interested, because I just put something new out there and I'm even trying to get a sense of it myself. And there are some pretty smart people out there, too--you know, it's not like I just can't care about any of it. And then there's a time to put it away and be like, "Well, for better or worse, that's not gonna help me make the next thing." In fact, it's going to make it really hard if I keep all those ideas, especially from people I admire, in my head. There just won't be any room for something new. But I've given up trying to be a total purist and only care what I think. 'Cause it's just not who I am. It's kind of an ebb and flow.
How does that play into your live work?
It's so different, because there, it's really about the people in the room that night, and you feel like they're really contributing a huge amount of energy to what happens there...so it is for that reason performance is kind of a little more liberating from the get-go, because who's really gonna compare it to whatever other performance?
But it takes so much planning to pull a show like that off. With a crowd being necessarily individual, how do you cope with that?
The performance that this movie evolved out of was really hair-raising in that sense, especially because I cast members of the audience in the performance, and then they were in the whole thing. So every night it was different, and could go disastrously wrong--it didn't, but it was actually terrifying enough that it made making a movie seem comparatively... easy? I mean, not, obviously, in a lot of ways, but...I didn't take that performance on tour like I might've, partly because I just couldn't deal with the unpredictabilities that it invited. And that kind of pushed me into making it as a movie.
What's your perspective on nostalgia? You seem particularly interested in looking back and looking forward, and whether that's standing still or not.
Well, I think there is this sort of immobility you can get from--yeah, not just looking back, but looking forward way too much. Like at one point when Jason's talking about the future that they won't get to have now...it's almost this nostalgia for their future, getting old together. And I am sort of wary of that in myself--I look at old people, older couples, like in the airport, and I think, "When they were my age, were they thinking as hard about being old people as I am right now?" I'm trying to get out of that somehow, and be just where I actually am, which is, I feel like at the end of the movie, whatever's gonna happen with them, you can't say that they aren't very in the present in that moment.
That's what really fascinated me about The Future--trying to understand time.
I know. It's such a hard thing to get at, and I love to think about it. I had to just realize--okay, the ways I'm gonna get at this are gonna be really clumsy. Because even in thinking about it, I'm clumsy. You try to outwit the invention of time and it's hard to do. (laughs) So just to point at it a little bit, or to have someone stuck in a particular moment--3:14--allows maybe a way to feel it. Or to make it up anew, you know, like when he's trying to start [time] again. I really had to think, like--well, how would you? What would be your instinct if you were trying to start it? Is time, like, in the air? Do you shake the air?