Animating the Inanimate: The Future

August 10, 2011

I was hesitant to see Miranda July’s new film, The Future, because while I’m a fan of her earlier avant-garde art practice (and even a supporter and friend during this period of her career, shout out to Big Miss Moviola), the trailer’s sickly smell of and reviewer’s attention to its twee-hipsterism seemed to speak completely outside the daily confines of my interests as a middle-aged, lady-professor Mommy (although I walk the same streets, drink the high-priced coffee, and eat nouvelle Vietnamese with them often enough in my sporadically gentrifying LA neighborhood).

So let me say up front that while her film skirts that mode in some cloying aspects of style—thrift store fashion, skinny pubescent looking adults with wild-child hair, 35 year-olds in what appears to be someone’s college apartment, and her insistence upon playing the eternal permanently precocious ingénue—many of its forms are original, exciting, and feminist, what I’ve always admired in July’s oeuvre.

Let’s start with her interest in animating the inanimate: the cat, the Moon, and two decidedly unhip Angelenos who surprisingly speak when they transform from backdrop into supporting characters. Why do so many things that would usually be silent speak? The film’s narrative, and July’s Sophie initially suggest a technological excuse: once the internet is off we maybe just could become connected. But instead it turns out that our lovely couple are even more bereft of community and conversation, thereby needing different kind of objects (from those they would be watching dancing on YouTube, say) to add (any) meaning to their empty world. And yet, the film’s odd couple were already completely isolated in their domestic bliss of two, even when the internet was running: no friends, nowhere to go, no life but each other. And here enters July’s feminist formalism. These lost children in love—without to-be-expected careers, families, houses, friends or complex lives—have been convinced that the monogamous couple is enough, is all. The isolation of domestic love has locked them away and protected them from the world and both its bourgeois expectations and messy pleasures. But unlike the celebratory man-boy genre of male super-comedians and indie super-stars alike, this couple is punished for their infantitude: their selfishness kills the cat and no (movie) magic will bring it back. They have to grow up, which means growing out: out into the world through whatever connective technology works—computer, friendship, community, and art.

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