Director, performance artist, writer, and actress Miranda July is the indie film world’s favorite female face. Best known for her 2005 debut feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know, and her follow-up collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You, she has been near and dear to us here at BUST since before she graced our cover in 2007. So when I found out she was debuting her second feature film, The Future, at Sundance, I was excited to go check it out and then chat with July about it.
The Future is a dark, daring look at a 30-something couple’s fears about becoming grown-ups. It’s the kind of movie that will be interpreted differently by everyone who sees it, and frankly it took me a while to process! But it was totally worth it, and like any great piece of art, it was one that requires time to digest after viewing.
The film centers on Sophie (played by July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), a hipster L.A. couple who both have unsatisfying jobs, feelings of inadequacy, and commitment phobia. This shared phobia is so great, in fact, that their planned adoption of an injured cat seems to paralyze them with fear. Paw Paw, the cat, surprisingly enters the story as the narrator, and speaks to us from a cage at the animal shelter in a craggy voice. Apparently, the little fella had a tough time in the wild, but is filled with incredible hope and longing to be adopted by the couple once his 30-day medical waiting period has passed.
While waiting anxiously to adopt Paw Paw, Sophie and Jason decide–since this will be a huge commitment for them–to change things up a bit. They both quit their jobs, and Jason begins selling trees door to door, while Sophie tries unsuccessfully to become a dance sensation on YouTube and begins an affair with an older suburban single dad. What happens next is surreal: time stops, the moon talks to Jason, and things keep getting weirder until the film’s unforgettable conclusion.
Obviously, I was left with a lot of questions about The Future, so I was eager to chat with the auteur herself the morning after I saw the film. Here’s how it all went down:
You’ve said before that you’ve felt like the passing of time has become a protagonist in your life. And it definitely seems like it is for Sophie and Jason. I was wondering if you could talk about that a little in relation to the movie.
Well, in your 20s, you think a lot about the future, but it’s all about the exciting things that are going to happen to you. And in your 30s, you start thinking about the rest of your life in more abstract ways. Not in a death-obsessed way, but suddenly it’s, like, Oh, it’s finite. And it’s like you knew that all along, but somehow you have to get to a certain point to really feel it, to get your head around it.
I know this film originated with an earlier performance piece you had been working on in 2006 called Things We Don’t Understand and Definitely Are Not Going to Talk About. Were those same feelings happening back then?
There was a weird evolution. During my first movie [Me And You And Everyone We Know], when I was editing, I went through this awful breakup. It was one of those breakups that seems really awful at the time, but months later, you’re like, “Whew! Glad I’m out of that!” And then I met Mike [Mills, her husband], and I remember the shock of that being sort of science-fictional, like the world was upside-down. And meanwhile, I’m editing this fairly light movie, and I remember thinking, “I have to get this feeling into a movie.”
Lets talk about the YouTube stuff in your film and online culture in general. You wrote a director’s statement in which you discussed how a lot of girls are using YouTube to sort of be seen. They’re making little videos of themselves in their bedrooms, and they’re providing instant access to their lives in a way that’s unfiltered and unedited. How do you feel about that phenomenon? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?
I have mixed feelings about it. I totally get it. And I probably would have been up to no good in a jiffy if I was 13 and YouTube existed, so I don’t have judgment about it. But I do feel like…I can’t believe this happened. I thought we were headed somewhere else. The porn-y, stripper-y, tones of it are mixed up with the self-expression, finding your power aspects of it. It’s really mixed up but so prime for young girls.
Yeah, my daughter, who is 12, is online all day. She made a couple of videos, but I’m always terrified. She and her friends just video-chat all day. It’s so futuristic. They’re just three kids and they’re all talking and their faces are there on the screen.
Wow, and they probably don’t even fully register that people have only been able to do that for a year or two. Isn’t that weird that this didn’t exist and now it’s just the speed of where they’re at?
I know! Going back to Sophie’s character, she seemed so child-like and weird in the beginning. I’m wondering if you were trying to make her like that?
I wanted her to start out kind of unconscious and then to wake up, you know? This awakening happens very late in the movie, and its not clear if it’s too late or what. She wakes up to the fact that she’s made the wrong choice and yet she still has to go on. It’s harder if you make the wrong choice, but you still have to go down your path. And in a way, maybe she needs to have taken the wrong path to get there.
Ok, so, the cat. Is he a metaphor for their relationship or for having children?
I think it was a few things. One was, I wanted someone to just be able to speak honestly. And then, I wanted his pure love and longing to prompt the question, What is that thing that is lost when you fuck up for real and there’s, like, real consequences? We’d all be having affairs if there wasn’t something that could be ruined. And that something might be the most important thing.
Check out Miranda's site here. Portraits by Bek Andersen