The Future (2011)

The Future first published by EyeforFilm

Carefree, happy-go-lucky Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) have their whole future ahead of them.

They may have co-habited long enough to prefer companionship and conversation to passion, they may spend their waking hours on-line or doing low-end, stopgap jobs that bring them little satisfaction (Satisfaction was this film’s working title), they may have allowed their dreams and ambitions gradually to slip away, but this thirtysomething LA couple is, as the elderly Joe (Joe Putterlik) puts it while selling Jason a used hairdryer, still “in the middle of the beginning”, with a crisis inevitably on its way to be endured and hopefully overcome so that they can spend the rest of their days together.  

That crisis comes in the form of Pawpaw, a stray moggy with a broken paw and a renal condition. Thinking that it has no more than six months to live, the couple decides on a whim to adopt it, only to be informed that the cat, if properly looked after and loved, could have a much longer future. The prospect of such lasting responsibility suddenly confronts Sophie and Jason with anxiety and doubt about themselves, and they determine to change their lives in the month remaining before Pawpaw can be picked up from the animal centre. So they switch off their Internet connection, quit their jobs, and face a future that, though never previously questioned, starts taking on a nightmarish aspect. 

 If artist July established herself as a quirky new voice in cinema with her unflinching (and award-winning) ensemble dramedy Me And You And Everyone We Know (2005), then with her follow-up The Future, the quirks are given much freer rein through a series of goofy idiosyncrasies and surrealist flourishes. For a start, the film is narrated by a troubled if optimistic cat (voiced somewhat creepily by July). Jason finds expression for his hopes and fears about impermanence by retreating, wide-eyed, into the conservation movement, and imagines a settled life with the same longevity (and indoor furnishings) as Joe’s. Sophie tries and fails to come up with a signature dance for YouTube, before infantilising herself in an affair with the older, divorced dad Marshall (David Warshofsky) – whose own daughter Gabriella (Isabella Acres) literally buries herself in the back garden. Realising that he might be losing Sophie forever, Jason freezes time, making his dark night of the soul last inordinately long, and frets over the waxing and waning of love in an extended two-way dialogue with the moon itself (voiced by Putterlik). Meanwhile a treasured T-shirt crawls about under its own steam in search of the owner who abandoned it, and Sophie’s girlfriends go from pregnancy to motherhood to grandmotherhood to death before her (and our) very eyes.   

Which is to say that The Future starts off eccentrically enough, before descending into unbridled zaniness, all to the feyly plangent strains of Jon Brion’s score. Yet, as with July’s first film, this sweet whimsy both conceals and sugars some rather dark, bitter observations on change and mortality. Here uncertainty is everything – uncertainty of what is dream and what is reality, uncertainty about personal identity, and uncertainty of what the hereafter holds – making appropriate July’s wonderfully calm ending (shot in static long shot) that leaves us too uncertain as to whether Sophie and Jason are turning a page in their relationship, or ending it forever. 

The answer, we suspect, could be as arbitrary as the decision whether (or not) to adopt a cat – as arbitrary, but also as charged with ramifying significance for the future, in a world where the only real certainty is death. The film is dedicated to Putterlik, who serves in the film as Jason’s ideal model, and who himself died the day after The Future was finished. 

© Anton Bitel