I’ve recently developed this habit of examining the hands of the elderly. The protruding veins, the dark skin spots, and every other mark that signifies the passage of time through age, and it has me perturbed. What’s most disconcerting about my new hobby is the constant reminder that I am only here (insert thirty-something existential hipster angst) and they are there (insert the future), and I have no idea what’s going to happen in between. According to Miranda July, I am only at the beginning.
July’s latest film, The Future (2011), brings this angst to the screen through a thoughtful depiction of the “life has to be more than this” plague of my generation. Bordering on the surreal in execution but rooted in emotional realism, with a clever script, to boot, July’s film seeks to uncover the answers we all yearn for: what’s my purpose in life, why am I here, and how can I make my mark?
In The Future, L.A couple Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (Miranda July) are on the verge of a life-altering endeavor. The couple – who share the same haircut, the same lulling intonation, and the same fear of commitment – decide to take the plunge on Paw Paw, a terminally ill cat who requires nursing for the last six months of his life. The rude awakening for Jason and Sophie comes when they are informed that the projected six months that Paw Paw has left is the minimum life span. The faceless cat, sequestered to a “cageatorium” while he waits for his new home, might actually live for the next five years depending on how much they love it. The possibility of the later death date becomes the catalyst for Jason and Sophie’s sudden meltdown, and introduces the element of time as a central focal point for the film. The calculations begin as the couple piles up the remaining golden years of their youth against their accomplishments thus far in the mediocre lives they have built. Together they decide to take the following 30 days to find meaning and seek fulfillment without any external influences. They decide to let it (life) choose them and remain alert to all signs pointing them in any direction.
While Jason assumes the rational approach to finding the meaning of life through a “fulfilling” job, Sophie’s path is more chaotic. Her efforts to create something new and fantastic are met with a familiar, demoralizing procrastination. In what is surely a statement on the post-modern obsession with the self and individualism, Sophie becomes transfixed by her colleague’s YouTube dance video, disabling her from creating anything original of her own. The choice to curtail Sophie’s effort for self-discovery within her current environment is in keeping with the auteur’s offbeat oeuvre. Fragile, insecure, and inadequate Sophie is transplanted into a life where nothing is expected of her except desirability, pointing to the artifice of the picture-perfect life on the other side of that grass.
There is a polarizing point in the film where fans who applaud July’s lean toward the quirky left will be elated with her surreal representation of the couple’s struggle. Those who have difficulty with enduring the bizarre will surely walk away. What is certain is that somewhere in the middle everyone can relate to a film that weaves together imagination with finding your place in this world. Most importantly, as her followers can attest, when Miranda July stops time, we need to listen.