At its heart, Miranda July’s first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know, is endlessly hopeful. It’s a film about how difficult it is to connect with others, but how doing so can be a transformative, defining experience. It’s about the first time someone takes their hand in yours. As such, watching it is an uplifting, gorgeous experience: the sort of film you could watch again and again. In comparison, July’s second film, The Future, is the sort of film one might never want to see a second time.
That’s not a criticism. If MAYAEWK (to use an awkward acronym) is about the tentative first steps of a relationship, then The Future takes place sometime beyond that. The Future is about a relationship that no longer works, a relationship that due to its comfortableness and length has been taken for granted and as such has wilted with neglect. July shows how this begins, with the death of small kindnesses, the turning inward of oneself, and the creative ennui that stasis can provoke. It’s an everyday experience but no less horrible for it, and one that everyone encounters eventually. In its own way The Future is more wrenching than any kitchen sink drama because it’s about the horror of how the most lovely thing in your life can wither before your eyes, and then disappear, and then life just continues as if it was never there at all.
It might seem strange to describe The Future as wrenching considering that its narrator is a cat, or that it contains a sequence in which an old tee-shirt slowly crawls back to its owner, or in which a girl buries herself in her back garden. These whimsical touches may distance some from the film, and it’s a shame because these surreal moments never exist purely for the sake of quirkiness alone. Instead they work as metaphors for the emotional states of the characters, showing a fragile openness that’s easy to overlook or laugh away.
There’s a deep sadness to all of Miranda July’s work that’s sorely underrated: as an author and filmmaker she’s painfully honest about how lonely you can feel when you’re with another person. Do you stay in your comfortable, threadbare relationship or risk the strangeness and terror of something new? At a certain point one has to try and forget about how twee the idea of a cat narrator is (and it is so very, very twee), and instead place a bit of trust in what July is trying to accomplish. If you do that then you’ll find a reflection of yourself, or at least the version of you that wakes up at three in the morning and can’t drift off again, troubled because the person lying next to you became a stranger while you slept.