I have seen the future. Or so says the tiny button that Miranda July’s people handed out at Saturday’s showing of The Future. I’m one of the many people who sort of want to hate Miranda July—because does anyone really need to be a filmmaker and a fiction writer and a performance artist and a visual artist? Also, there’s the quirk factor, which one can only take in small doses.
But the truth is, some people do need to be all those things. There are specialists and there are generalists, and Miranda July is lucky enough to be the latter without sucking at any of her métiers (well, actually I’ve never seen her performance and visual art. Let’s pretend they suck). As for the quirk—which takes the form of a magical T-shirt and a talking cat in The Future—it’s not something I’m in the mood for every minute, but she never cheats by trying to make it stand in for depth.
The Future is about a couple in their mid-thirties who’ve rescued a cat named Paw-Paw. But Paw-Paw (who subsequently broke my heart) has an injured…paw, and has to stay at the shelter for an extra month. Overwhelmed by the impending responsibility, Sophie and Jason decide they have thirty days to get their shit together: find their true passions, make a difference, live as if life is not just a rehearsal. So Jason quits his IT job and starts going door to door selling trees, except he ends up buying random stuff from the Pennysaver instead. Sophie quits her job teaching dance and sets out to choreograph and upload “30 Dances in 30 Days” to YouTube. Except she’s totally paralyzed and ends up making her own random and even destructive connections.
Meanwhile, Paw-Paw waits for his people to take him home.
The particulars of Sophie and Jason make them not quite real, but if you substitute “write a novel” for “selling trees,” and “have a kid” for “adopt a cat,” and “two or, sigh, maybe more years” for “thirty days,” suddenly it’s not so absurd. Or maybe it is, but it’s an absurdity that, ahem, I relate to.
It’s a movie about the paradox of waiting. We as humans and felines can’t wait for the future, and so we miss out on the present, which is yesterday’s future. We snuff it out with worry and paralysis. And because anxiety about the future clouds the present, it makes us dislike the present and pine for (and worry about) the future even more.
Other movies and books have more or less said this, but what I like about The Future is that it also acknowledges that hope is an integral part of waiting and therefore not so bad. As Paw-Paw says (I’m paraphrasing), “I’d be happy to wait forever if I always knew they were coming tomorrow.” A certainty that the future has not yet begun is an unconscious way of knowing that time is endless—which is what enables us to enjoy the present. Or so went my thinking when, as a teenager and young adult, I consumed massive quantities of junk food every night. I would have hated the idea that my life was junk food and TV, but I was confident that my real life—the one in which I did my homework right after school and ate carrots and had a busy social calendar—would start tomorrow. It was a lie I had to tell myself so it could eventually (sort of) come true.
I’m kind of perennially burnt out on Q&A’s, but Miranda July won me over. She didn’t play one of those “Oh it just came to me in a dream/I’m so kooky and charmed” artists. She owned up to her own intentionality. The way she talked about her process made me realize that her approach is, I think, to follow the whimsical thoughts we all have to their illogical conclusions. We all read the Pennysaver to procrastinate and wonder, Who places these ads? But then we tell ourselves to go do the dishes. Miranda July interviews the ad-placers and puts them in her movie.
So ultimately, like a lot of artists I love, she is unapologetically herself. Which makes me want to be more like her, which makes me inherently unlike her.