Artist/filmmaker Miranda July’s second movie, The Future, is a wonderfully quirky, often funny nervous breakdown. In it, she introduces us to three characters, a couple in their mid-thirties and the talking cat they hope to adopt, and in doing so, stews a litany of contemporary anxieties over communication, aging, love, life’s purpose, sex, false hope, loneliness, and the end of the world. It is a melancholic little movie, but one that seeks to sooth its audience through the power of its personal charm and its audacious sense of honesty. July spoke to FrontRow about making her movie and how her work evolves from performance art to screen material.
FrontRow: The Future was an international joint production. How did you go about financing the film?
Miranda July: It was mostly a company called Razor which we knew from the first movie. They were always keen to do it, but [working with a German production company] complicated the process. We also funded it on presales and financing from the UK and France. But with Razor we had to hire a German crew and fly them out here to fulfill the requirement with the studio. We also had to finish the movie Germany. There were other production options, but this was the height of the first recession. And from some of the other [production companies] there was pressure to cast bigger stars. It was tough, but there were no creative problems.
FR: Were you opposed to having stars in the movie?
MJ: I was open to it initially, in a way I wasn’t for the first movie, maybe for one of the male leads. We met with some, but there was always something glaringly off. Then I had these guys [Hamish Linklater and David Warshofsky] early in mind always .
FR: You work in so many mediums and styles, how did this idea emerge and how did you know it was a movie project, and not say, a performance or video piece?
MJ: The unique situation of the second movie is that I felt really gun-shy. This started as a performance, which included some of the central elements: the talking cat, the stopping of time. The narrative was there, but it was not in the real world. The problem with movies is that it all real – real moon, real cat. So I had to make it more normal and less abstract. But it felt less like an adaptation than an evolution
FR: Movies are a very literal art form. Do you find yourself trying to push what movies can accomplish narratively, or is it a matter of you naturally working something out and then having to rein it in for the screen?
MJ: I’m never being weird just to be weird. I’m caught up in a feeling. I’m used to metaphor and all these things we have in fiction, and then I’m pressing to be less literal. I do better that way, where as other people do better when they are a little more literal.
FR: A recent profile in the New York Times Magazine described you as a filmmaker and an artist who captures something about a specific generation. In terms of The Future, the opening scene, when the main couple is sitting on the couch absorbed in their computers, seems to capture these sort of generational communication issues very succinctly. Do you think of your work as generational in some way?
MJ: You never think like that about yourself. It has been interesting to see what the responses have been to that scene based on age. There were some, and I’m generalizing here, older people who thought there was something mentally wrong with them – the characters – in that scene. Then there are people my age or younger, and they were like, that’s so me and my boyfriend. I may be making it a little extreme, though.
FR: If that scene is extreme, it is just barely. It really does capture something of the anxiety about communication and disconnectedness, which is something you explore in a lot of your work.
MJ: I realize it just comes from feeling alone. If you are always working out these themes, then ultimately I must not feel connected. But I am also interested in ways we make that communication more complicated. That is almost an art in and of itself. And sometimes my own work is reaching out and pulling back at the same time.
FR: Another anxiety that is present in the film is that of perpetually looking for meaning or clues about one’s life in the day-to-day. It almost feels religious, in some ways, this yearning for providence in the world without ever really finding it.
MJ: That’s just me. Moment by moment I do that, but I’m not so inside of it that I don’t see it as crippling. That’s what I wanted to do with the cat. People complain about the cat dying, but the other side is that the waiting ends – the waiting and the hope for what was never going to be, things that don’t come into being. I am thinking about the relationship we have with false hope, but it is still a real relationship. I don’t think about it as flaky, yet I want real consequents for what they do. All of my fantasies always ended with putting myself in and then loosing something.
FR: The movie also hits an apocalyptic note, particular the scene when Jason expresses his despair that world as we know is going to inevitably going to pass away. How much of that is metaphor and how much of that reflects how you see the world. Is it a way of saying something about these characters, or are you saying something?
MJ: I did want to put in there that I don’t any long imagine that this way of life is going to go on forever. It is not a political or informed view, it is just an assumption that we messed up. And then I’ll read something that says that that’s true. And I say, what? Shouldn’t our consciousness feel that? Shouldn’t we feel radically different? And I thought that worked in the movie because it is about time in some many different ways.
Image: Miranda July in The Future. The movie opens Friday, August 19.