The Future (2011) - brightwalldarkroom
YOU’RE JUST IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BEGINNING RIGHT NOW.
by Taylor K. Long
The first time I saw The Future was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Miranda July, the director and starring actress, was there. I have what one could call average luck with a higher-than-normal contest-entering rate, and had won tickets. I took one of my best friends. It was July, I was (barely) sustaining off of unemployment, and in the process of moving to Vermont.
The second time I saw The Future was in my living room in Vermont, with my boyfriend, a few weeks ago.
The Future opens with a cat. A cat with a broken paw that wants nothing more than to be rescued from the animal hospital hell it is currently stuck in by a couple who will accept it, care for it, and adore it.
That couple is Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater). And they are sitting on the couch in their apartment, pretending to be frozen in time by Jason’s mind. Until the phone rings, and Jason resumes his phone tech support job while Sophie runs off to teach dance—insofar as watching a bunch of young girls jump up and down in leotards is “teaching dance.” They are content but uninspired, in need of something new.
The cat is something new. And Sophie and Jason are tentatively optimistic. “I think we’re ready,” Sophie says shyly. “Anyways, it’s just for six months at the most. And then we can do whatever we want for the rest of our lives.” But six months is more intimidating than the rest of their lives, because six months is tangible. It has a definable start and finish, whereas “the rest of our lives” is just a vague notion. It’s large and it’s long, but it’s also blurry and ambiguous. It’s over there, up ahead somewhere.
Talking with the vet, they learn that the cat (which they must wait a month to take home) will require intensive care and medication, and “if he bonds with [them]” the cat could live for years (“but probably no more than five.”)
Back home, they think ahead:
“We’ll be 40 in five years,” Sophie replies, downtroddenly.
“Wow. 40 is basically 50 and after 50 the rest is just loose change.”
“Like not quite enough to get anything you really want?”
“Oh god. So for all practical purposes, in a month, that’s it for us.”
Why do we prioritize time this way? Why is it that the decisions made somewhere in the middle feel so crucial? Why does committing to one route feel like leaving another behind? When do we start to believe that some paths, most paths, are like tributaries, flowing from, connected to a larger source? It’s often the illusion that we can’t turn around or start over that keeps us from starting at all. But where does this illusion come from? Couples break up and find love anew. Jobs are lost or ditched for better, higher-paying, different jobs. Kids are born, grow up, and leave. Houses are bought and rented and sold. These things happen all the time, all around us, at all ages and stages of life. So why can even the smallest commitment seem like having one foot nailed to the floor?
Many of us get labeled as having a “fear of commitment” at some point in our 20s and 30s, but of what are we actually afraid? Isn’t this, essentially, a mislabeled fear of failure? Failure to choose the right job, or failing to succeed at it. Failure to admit to yourself or another person that you no longer want to be with them, or failure to see that you never really wanted to in the first place. Failure to anticipate that you don’t want to live in New York City forever, or failure to work up the nerve to leave. Failure to understand that changing needs and desires and failing itself are simply a part of the system, and failure to understand that trying to avoid them is no less futile than trying to avoid death or heartache.
Sophie and Jason are often home anyway, but it’s their choice to be. Six months of always having to be at home is different, in the same way that choosing to spend a Friday at home is different than doing so because you don’t have other invitations.
But they have a month before it starts, a whole month. This feels both like a lot of time and like no time at all. They re-prioritize, and in a flurry of nerves and anticipation, quit their jobs. Because they never liked them much to begin with, because they don’t see themselves doing them for another five years, because they probably never saw themselves as tech-support agents and children’s dance teachers to begin with. Those jobs represent compromise: the moment you begin diluting your dreams with the reality of obligations. Now free, their only obligations lie with each other, and with the cat.
Jason takes a fatalistic approach, looking for strangers giving advice, open doors, coincidences, doubles, flares, glares, and flashes of light of any kind. This leads him to Joe.
Meanwhile, Sophie applies social pressure, announcing to friends and family that she will post a dance video on YouTube every day for a month. 30 days, 30 dances. From day one, she flounders from the burden of her own goal. Her timing is off, her outfit isn’t right, she started with the wrong move… She turns to YouTube and falls down the rabbit hole of watching others do what she should be doing.
The summer I saw The Future for the first time, I was unemployed (not for the first time). I vowed to write more during this phase of joblessness. Instead, I spent a lot of that time reading. Reading other writer’s pieces, the kinds of things I wanted to write, the kinds of things I felt I could. But even habits born of hope and ambition can be manipulated by fear and doubt. The more I read, the more I wasn’t reading to learn—to improve—but to procrastinate. To delay. Instead of assuring myself there were goals within my reach, I convinced myself that there were already too many people doing what I wanted to do, and doing it better.
A distraction problem is easier to fix than a self-esteem problem, so Sophie has the internet turned off, which renders her even more unable to move. This leads her to Marshall.
Despite their lack of interest in their own lives after 40, both Sophie and Jason find themselves in the regular company of older men, drawn to them through the glimpses of the future they bring.
In Joe, an eccentric older gentleman and a prolific writer of horny limericks dedicated to his wife, Jason sees a reflection of his possible older self. In Joe’s living room, he feels the same texture as his couch fabric, spies the same three hippo statuettes on his coffee table, the same hypnotic MC Escher print on his wall. He sees years ahead with Sophie, and that the years ahead aren’t really “loose change.” He can sit back and let fate take the wheel for a spell, because they’re still in the beginning.
Through Marshall, a banner and sign salesman living with his daughter, Sophie sees a life where she doesn’t need ambition and creativity, she can just be. She is fascinating just because she exists, like the tasteful paintings, vases, and sculptures she sees around Marshall’s home. She doesn’t have to fear failure, because she doesn’t have to try to begin with.
Sophie and Jason don’t realize that they want conflicting things. They want better lives without accountability, but to succeed at something is to be responsible for it. And it is the very fact that you are responsible for that success that is the most empowering.
Without responsibility—without the pressure of someone else’s expectations—Sophie finally dances, but is still judged. Without responsibility—without making decisions, instead letting coincidences and impulses guide him—Jason feels insignificant.
How you view them in the apartment together at the movie’s close will depend on things. On how much you relate to Sophie, or to Jason; on how closely you pay attention to what could be considered director’s clues; on how much weight you give to four years in a relationship; on whether you’re in a relationship and if you’re happy in it, or if you’re single and if that’s by choice.
The first time I saw The Future, I left sad. The second time I saw it, I felt hopeful.
My boyfriend and I were driving a few hours north last weekend, and I mentioned that we should come up again in the summer and camp. “Yeah, if there are any weekends in summer left,” he responded. I began running through the list of events planned for the next few weekends, and felt a sudden anxiety. It’s like summer’s almost over and it hasn’t even begun, I thought. Then… wait, no. It can’t be over. Because it hasn’t even begun.
Maybe we pretend to manipulate time—talk about how the years go by so fast, and the days go by so slow—lose ourselves in memories—obsess about certain age milestones—because it’s the closest we can come to feeling like we’re the boss of time, that we can change it, even though we know the opposite is true.
Five years ago may very well be written in stone, but what lies ahead is more like clay. Whether it be for another five minutes or for another five decades, the ability to shape what lies ahead can be plenty enough to leave a mark. Let The Future be a reminder of where to set our sights.