“The wrecking ball has already hit, and this is just the moment before it all falls down.”
Miranda July has crafted an unbearably sad experience in The Future. It isn’t obviously sad, not right away. At first, I was struck by its stark whimsy. It is a strange phrase—stark whimsy, but that is exactly what July gives us. There is a sad playfulness to the aesthetic of these characters’ lives that echoes ever outward, dominating all filmic choices and my consciousness as I watched it.
Sophie and Jason, a couple in their mid-thirties, are intelligent, sensitive and curious, but somehow lost. They have aspirations, but those are vague and undefined and so they seem to drift aimlessly, half-contented, and half-not. These characters are playful, but they are not having much fun. There is a quiet desperation in the game they have crafted, and the stakes are so very high—a meaningful existence. There is something goofy about existence, and we must cling to the silliness in order to hold the terrifying void at bay—the reality that we have limited resources and limited time.
They decide to adopt a cat, and the reality of this commitment forces them to reflect upon their life choices and acknowledge the possibility that they may be completely altering their future. The decision and its consequences (even before the cat ever appears on the scene) drastically alters their frame of reference. They thought, as we all did at some point, that they were going to be vitally important in this world. With the acknowledgement of a commitment, and consideration of a finite timeline for their lives, they are forced to admit the probability that they will not become world leaders or famous artists. The brilliance of this concept lies in the fact that, although their deductions seem overblown and ridiculous, there is a certain amount of truth to their concerns for the future. And that truth is painful. Hours turn into days, days to months, months to years, and there are only so many of those we have.
There are brief interludes during which we hear the thoughts of the cat they plan to adopt. These are whimsical, yet painful. This little creature, like our couple, is living on borrowed time. He counts down the hours to when his future owners will take him home and give his life meaning. These sequences are pathetic—and I meant that literally, not as some sort of jab. We ache, hoping to ease the quiet suffering of this animal and to reward his hope. (These strange and moving sequences with the cat, PawPaw, resonated strongly with me; I recently lost a very special furry companion.) Hope, the film tells us, is such a conflicted phenomenon. It can be a driving force, but it can also, eventually, cause us great suffering when our ambition and circumstances are not sufficient.
Jason and Sophie have set a course for their future. So have I. So have we all. The human race has set a course for its future. There is a beautiful and sad moment of reflection towards the end of the film when Jason, who has taken up selling trees door-to-door, muses (poetically) about where we are right now:
“You know how, like in cartoons, when the building gets hit by the wrecking ball, right before the building falls down, there’s always like this moment where it’s perfectly still right before it collapses? We’re in that moment. The wrecking ball has already hit, and this is just the moment before it all falls down.”
According to environmentalists, this is apparently very true, despite our desire to ignore the facts. We have set a course for our future that can’t really be undone, but we can at least hope to make the reality of it a little more pleasant for ourselves.
Miranda July has crafted a complex meditation on personal meaning that covers an astonishing amount of ground—from intimate relationships to global environmental concerns. She does this without ever leaving the reality of these two people and their simple lives. A little honesty can be so potent, and as uplifting as it is devastating.
The Future (2011)
Director: Miranda July
Writer: Miranda July
Stars: Miranda July, Hamish Linklater, David Warshofsky