Miranda July's new movie, The Future, plays with time obsessively and weirdly. Just the title hints at a battle against the sneakiness of time, creeping up on you. And in the film, time seems treacherous as well as unpredictable.
We were lucky enough to spend about 20 minutes talking with July about time loops, time bubbles, and the instability of the time/space continuum. Spoilers for The Future ahead...
So in The Future, one character named Jason has the ability to stop time — which appears to be a joke at first, but later turns out to be deadly serious. And his girlfriend Sophie (played by July herself) has some kind of rudimentary telekinesis. In the film, there's also a lot of talk about how time can get away from you — like the idea that once you turn 40, you're practically 50, and then your life is basically over. As the film unspools from its simple beginnings, the metaphor of time as a strange opponent gets more and more elaborate.
"I've always, since I was a kid, been interested in time," July tells us. "It's just inherently sort of scifi. Because it's this made up thing — but it is real. And the second you start looking at it, it's like something you're not supposed to look at. And the second you do, you're in trippy territory, you know? In the movie, I wanted not only to think about time and the future and death, and getting older, but also the way you can get stuck in time. The way you can get paralyzed."
Everybody talks about time moving so quickly that it gets away from you, but there's also the experience of being trapped in time, unable to move. July says sometimes she might plan to get up and do a bunch of things, "but I just can't seem to get up. That sort of stasis is always sort of the flipside to my hyper-productivity."
The standout sequence in the film is probably the one where Jason stops time, and then realizes that time is still moving at its normal speed outside of his little area of stasis. So in fact, only Jason is stopped, while the rest of the world keeps moving forward. This happens after Jason and Sophie have broken up, and July says this is a representation of the fact that "time is never so excruciating as when you've been broken up with."
July really wanted to play the character who stops time herself — and in fact, she originally developed this concept in a 2007 monologue that she performed, called "Things We Don't Understand and Are Definitely Not Going to Talk About." You can watch a snippet of that monologue at left.
The Magical Realism of Pain
One thing that seemed really striking after watching The Future was that it used magical realism way differently than a lot of other works — instead of trying to dramatize the strangeness, beauty or wonder of life, July seemed to be using magical realism to dramatize the futility of it instead. Like when Jason has an extended dialogue with the Moon, who says, "I don't know anything. I'm just a rock in the sky."
We asked July about this, and she says, "I guess you're right. It is mostly in pain that it feels necessary to go further than reality." She uses the devices of magical realism for "things that are so excruciating that words fail, reality fails."
For example, late in the film, when her character Sophie has gone off the rails, July wanted to dramatize the feeling of guilt, but also the sense that "you've really done the worst possible thing to yourself." Instead of just showing Sophie "looking bummed," July had a T-shirt appear, apparently brought by Sophie's telekinesis. And this brings in the idea that Sophie is haunting herself, "that these thoughts would kind of come creeping to you and you would flee them, but ultimately you would have to face the part of yourself that you had tried to abandon."
Another major theme in the film is that of inside and outside — the movie is narrated by a shelter cat named Paw-Paw, voiced by July herself, and Paw-Paw talks a lot about the long years of being outside. Now Paw-Paw is inside, where she can be seen, and owned, and exist in relation to others. It becomes clear that "inside" represents civilization, while "outside" represents some kind of state of nature.
Plus July tells us that "outside" also represents "the sense that you could never be loved anyways, and the sort of deep-down belief that you're just so alone that you could walk away from any relationship or any home, just into the night, at any moment. Because deep down, you're not actually domesticated, meaning you don't actually believe the story of this relationship or this family. Which is something I wrestle with." July got married while making this film, which is something she never imagined doing, and "those issues were coursing through my nervous system, sometimes in a really panicky way."
One of the most powerful moments in the film involves a character predicting a total environmental apocalypse, in which all of modern civilization will be swept away. If that happens, will we all be "outside," the way Paw-Paw was before? We asked July, and her response was: "That's interesting. I wonder if I ever thought about that. That fits, but I don't think I ever had that thought. But I like that a lot."
A lot of the craziness in the film only begins after July's character turns off the Internet permanently, so that Sophie and Jason are cut off from Youtube and Facebook and stuff. Says July:
When we don't know what we're feeling or don't know what to do next, usually we just go online now. I know I do. When I have a moment that I didn't plan on having, i just look at my phone [and] I find something to look at... As someone who, as my job, tries to go into those kind of spaces, those kind of unknown spaces and make things out of nothing, and have like trust and faith in mystery, that's kind of scary. I'm like, 'Oh, if I'm online all the time does that mean I can't really do what I do?' And then, you know, on the other hand, it fits quite nicely in the kind of 'do it yourself' mentality that is how I have always made my work, so I appreciate that about it. I do like the fact that I can connect with so many people without an institution dictating it. Well, other than Facebook or whatever.
Another fascinating thing in the movie is the sheer number of characters who find terrible ways to communicate with each other. July tells us, "I do love failed communication. It doesn't do what the person is hoping it will do, but it tells us so much about them. And I guess that's part of [the appeal], that it's accidentally revealing of some things that were meant to be hidden, maybe, and even in its brashness or its boldness, it's accidentally revealing the wrong thing."
The Future is out now in New York and opens in more cities this Friday, and even more cities the following Friday.