Do You Want to Know What Happens in The Future?
Miranda July's New Movie Is Better Once You Know the Ending
There are two kinds of people in the world, as the New York Times Magazine recently reminded us: People who love everything Miranda July does and people who want to throw Miranda July out of a sixth-story window. Many friends of mine are in that second group, but I'm truly, madly, deeply in the first. I love her short stories, I love her first movie, I love her two-dimensional visual art, I love her three-dimensional sculptures, I love her however-many-dimensions-it-is-if-you-make-a-website-where-thousands-of-people-follow-identical-instructions, I love her radio-show-like albums for K Records, I love her blog, I even love her shoulder muscles. I gave her a shoulder massage backstage at Bumbershoot years ago, and out of tradition I gave her another one when she was in town for SIFF's premiere of The Future, the whole time thinking about how so many different sorts of things have come out of such a tiny individual.
Now that The Future is opening in theaters, people I know who liked Me and You and Everyone We Know keep asking me if it's good, if they should see it, usually adding, "Is it true there's a talking cat?" or "I heard something about a cat" or "That cat thing sounds annoying." It does sound annoying, and to be honest, I was baffled by the talking cat and the film itself the first time through—the whole thing felt cold and inert and arbitrary, especially compared to Me and You and Everyone We Know—but then I got to see it again, and it opened up in a new way, and the only way for me to explain why involves telling you what happens at the end.
If you are the kind of person who likes to be surprised by the end of a movie, or who requires being surprised in order for you to enjoy it, you should stop reading, because I'm not that kind of person and I want to talk about the end.
Anyway, yes, there's a talking cat.
(I'm stalling here, to give you some buffer between telling you I'm going to tell you the end and telling you the end.)
But concentrating your expectations on the talking cat—getting too imaginative about the kind of absurdist whimsy you might be getting into, because Me and You and Everyone We Know had flashes of absurdist whimsy—is setting yourself up for disappointment, or at least setting yourself up for seeing The Future as a sort of failed version of Me and You and Everyone We Know.
(Did you stop reading yet?)
For what it's worth, there's no CGI crap: The cat is seriously ill and trapped in a cage, and while it talks, you only ever see its paws, one of them adorably bandaged. July and costar Hamish Linklater play a couple who plan on adopting the cat in a month. It will take constant care, this sick cat, but in the meantime they have a month to do whatever they want, and they decide to go to great lengths to make the most of this month of freedom, this span of time ahead of them, this chance. The possibilities!
The grayness of their life together, the pure blahness of life in supposedly beautiful Los Angeles, the repetitiveness of their day-to-day—this is all going to be demolished by this gift of time. She takes up an art project and he takes up volunteer work. They shut off their internet. (First there's a funny scene where they frantically try to think of things to do on the internet in the last few moments of internet access and can't really think of anything to do.) They dream of what this opportunity is going to do to their relationship, to their togetherness, and also to their inner lives.
It turns out nothing could be worse for their relationship than this month of freedom. The future has other plans. This movie isn't cold, inert, and arbitrary—time itself is. That's this movie's subject. After things go sideways and in a moment of pure panic, one of the characters freezes time—there's a gorgeous vision of Pacific waves mid-crest, looking pewter under a bright moon. But of course you can't freeze time, and of course you can't stop death. I told you I was going to tell you the end, so here goes: The cat dies. After all that, after all those plans, after all that work and hope, after the month of work and hope fucks up their relationship, they get the date wrong about when to pick up the cat from the pound and the pound puts it to sleep. Because it's not a happy ending, it's an unhappy experience, at least that first time out, but knowing what's coming makes it better. That's all we really want, any of us: to know what's coming. I recommend seeing it twice.