In The Future, Miranda July plays a woman who takes the newly adopted cat she shares with her live-in boyfriend to the vet to have its leg looked at. When they learn the cat will have to stay in the hospital for more than a month, the childless couple comes to the realization that the responsibility-free time they have until the cat returns may be the last bit of freedom they ever have.
That half-baked realization brings drastic changes as they each quit their jobs (she a children’s dance instructor, he a tech-support operator) and decide to start Living Their Lives. She announces she’s going to come up with 30 dances in 30 days and broadcast them on the Internet. He decides he’s just going to wander around until opportunity finds him.
During their experiment, they learn that living life to the fullest isn’t something you can just switch on. She struggles creatively; he’s less than thrilled with the option opportunity presents. The second half of the movie tracks how they deal with that realization.
The Future is a movie that should be watched with an eye toward themes that emerge, more than a literal story. Just as things seem to settle into a fairly traditional form of storytelling, the cat starts talking – as does the moon – and one character finds the ability to freeze space and time.
Those fantasy elements have always interested July, who also wrote and directed The Future. If the only thing you know her from is her previous film, the wonderful Me and You and Everyone We Know, then she says The Future is probably a closer representation of her artistic style.
In an interview at South by Southwest, July discussed the artistic struggles she has had in common with her character, why she refuses to restrict herself to film and what it might be like if she ever took part in someone else’s movie. The Future screens Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Angelika Film Center as part of the Dallas International Film Festival.
Art&Seek: Tell me about what you were thinking about and feeling when you were writing The Future.
Miranda July: Often I thought, “Move in symbols.” Which to me means don’t get to literal with emotions, because that makes them smaller. Let yourself be free, and in a way, even free associate when it comes to how you’re literally going to represent feelings on the screen. Which is why I think there’s these more surreal elements. Those are feelings.
A&S: There’s definitely a point in watching The Future when you realize everything isn’t literal and you start asking yourself, “What are the themes of this movie?” So what would you say the themes are?
M.J.: Well, that’s more your terrain. All I can say is what the characters are feeling. There’s someone who forsakes themselves – who gets so paralyzed, my character – that she forsakes herself and her life and her love and tries to live in a place where she won’t have to encounter herself. … I don’t know what the name of that theme is. “Self-forsaking,” maybe?
A&S: Your character takes on a challenge of coming up with 30 dances in 30 days and suffers from paralysis by analysis. You’re involved in lots of areas of art – is that a feeling you’ve ever felt?
M.J.: I think for any artist or writer, that’s the great villain – that you won’t be able to do it. When you commit your life to doing this, that would be the only really bad thing that could happen. I think I more had the fear of that then actually went through that for this particular movie. But any time you struggle, you always wonder, “Is this gonna to last forever? It feels like it’s going to. So I decided to see, like, well, what if it did?
A&S: Promising more than you might be able to deliver is something that a lot of artists struggle with.
M.J.: And I think also, especially in this day and age, you need some sort of hook. And often, the hook is, “Well, I’m going to do more than anyone else. Like, “I’m not just going to have a cooking blog, I’m going to cook all the recipes in the cookbook in this many days.” That somehow makes it real, if you have a concept. Me and my friends always joke about these plans that we have that are so much larger. This movie, at one point, was one of those plans.
A&S: Your last movie, Me and You and Everyone We Know, came out in 2005. Did you need that much time to formulate The Future, or were you doing other things?
M.J.: Yeah, I wrote a book that came out – a book of short stories and promoted that. And I did a big art installation for the Venice Biennale. And I wrote a performance that played in New York that eventually evolved into this movie. I don’t do the same medium back-to-back, so I won’t be doing another movie at least for five years, because I have to write a novel and do another performance.
A&S: Why do you set yourself up like that to rotate through media?
M.J.: It’s more interesting for me. It makes for a better life. Of course, right this second, I think, because I just finished this new movie, “I could do a better one right now! All the things I did wrong I could do again!” But in a way, it’s probably better that I don’t try and do that immediately and that I learn the things I’m going to learn from writing a story really slowly. I’ve always worked that way, so I think I’d be a different kind of filmmaker if I only made films. That would be my main point of reference.
A&S: Both of the main characters have this feeling that they are getting older and they’ve got to start living their lives for real right then. Is that a feeling you had?
M.J.: I was doing a lot of math around that time, where I was like, “OK, wait, 35 … so 40. Ok, 40, so 40, 50, 60…” To where basically, I could be like, “Oh, I’m dead. I just died, for all practical purposes.” And you just don’t do that in your 20s. It’s actually quite the opposite – it just seems infinite, because you’re still going to do every single thing you think of. And in your 30s, you do begin to think, “OK, maybe I won’t go to every single country. There’s some I’ll probably just never go to. In fact, most of them.” And everything becomes finite. And some of us start to decide, well, for example, “If I’m not going to have sex with every single person in the world, maybe I should just pick one?” I think that’s partly why people get married. You start to want to do the one thing well.
A&S: But your characters decide to quit their jobs and set off right then and there on their great adventure. That’s not as easy to do as you’d like to think it is.
M.J.: Right. What I just said, they do the opposite of.
A&S: You write, direct and star in your movies. Have you ever given any thought to taking part in other people’s movies?
M.J.: I hadn’t, until after this one. I thought, probably before I make my next movie, I should act in someone else’s, just because I would learn so much. I became more aware with this one that my actors in a way new more than me having been directed by all these different people. I had never been directed by anyone, really. In some ways, I was hurting myself by having only this one experience for my whole life. So maybe. This is all very theoretical. I don’t know who this person would be who would want a super-controlling director person/actor maybe in their movie. [laughs] Sounds fun!
The Future screens Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Angelika Film Center.