Fear & Boredom in “The Future”


Thy Kingdom Come

At the beginning of this year, I studied the Sermon on the Mount with more clarity than I ever had before.   When I arrived at Matthew 6:9-13, which is Jesus’ model for prayer, I found that I could barely say the words “thy kingdom come” without profound discomfort and unease.  This request, coming from my mouth, was so disturbing because it meant that I was praying for Christ to come and end it all – time, my dreams and goals, my life as I know it.

We are generally OK with the Bible’s handling of our past.  If the Bible says all my past failures are washed away, well then, that’s great.  But when the Bible begins to tamper with my future – well then, that’s something different altogether.  Why?  Because the future feels like it belongs to each of us in a subjective way.

Statistically speaking, I have more future ahead of me than past behind me, which means that in those moments when the future reveals itself to be totally uncertain, it especially feels like my world is falling apart, bit by bit.

That is, at least in part, something of a hermeneutical key to understanding the new film “The Future”.

The Future

Here’s a film that will fly through a limited release with hardly a drop of fanfare.  It’s Miranda July’s “The Future”, a disproportionately whimsical film about a couple dealing their own uncertain futures.  In the film, writer/director July also stars as Sophie, a children’s dance teacher who apparently has no mastery over children or dance.  She lives with her longtime boyfriend, Jason, played by Hamish Linklater, who works for a technical services company.  He answers phones and helps customers with their computer problems.

There’s also Paw-Paw, an injured cat whom Sophie and Jason rescued and delivered to the veterinarian.  They were told the cat would only survive another six months, so they decided to adopt him for that period of time.  But, in the film’s opening minutes, Sophie and Jason learn that, if the cat becomes emotionally attached to them, she could live another five years.  They have 30 days before Paw-Paw is healthy enough to leave the vet, so they have that time to make their final decision.

And what a decision this becomes!  In the course of a few minutes, Sophie and Jason transform from happy soon-to-be owners of a kitty cat to a couple trapped in a situation in which this cat could consume their lives for the next five years – which, they observe, could very well be the rest of their lives.  “We’ll be 40 in five years,” says Sophie.  “Forty’s basically 50 and then… that’s it for us.”

Over the following weeks, the impending adoption date adds enough pressure to their relationship that each of them begins making impulsive decisions that seem innocuous enough, but yield disastrous consequences.

Conversations With The Moon

Don’t think for a moment that “The Future” is a run-of-the-mill film experience.  It’s about as far from that as possible.  I forgot to mention that Paw-Paw, the injured cat, narrates the film, and that a linear timeline is abandoned in the film’s third act, and that, at one point, Jason has a conversation with the moon (and the moon talks back).  Yes, all that, and more.  “The Future” is a film with a lot of good ideas that get the life squeezed out of them by its oppressive whimsy (kind of defeats the purpose, right?).

Here and there, there are little moments of greatness or nuggets of interesting ideas, but I can’t think of one that leads us anywhere beneficial.  This shouldn’t surprise us; Miranda July does a similar thing in her first, and no less strange, film “Me and You and Everyone We Know”.  Surely July has a unique artistic voice.  There’s no question there.  What I do question is her tendency (or is it more than a tendency?) to build a narrative platform on important, consequential themes and topics and then treat them as though they’re insignificant and inconsequential.

In “The Future”, this works against itself.  For instance, in the film, Sophie copes with her fears about the future by attempting to post one new dance online every day for 30 days.  This fizzles out pretty quickly, for which we can be thankful since the dance sequences are some of the most painfully awkward moments of the whole movie.  So then she pursues an odd friendship with a man she met only briefly.  This turns into a sexual relationship (also very awkward) and is the next stage of deterioration in her relationship with Jason.

And that’s about all the viewer can say about those events.  They find no culmination, no dénouement, and certainly no satisfaction.  I wouldn’t complain about this if it didn’t seem like the movie was copping out.  But the movie does cop out.  By taking itself so lightly, by piling the whimsy on so thickly, “The Future” undermines itself.  This isn’t a fearless movie (as so many critics have claimed).  On the contrary, it’s covered in fear.

Worse than all of this, “The Future” is boring.  That should be the last thing this movie is. The last 20 minutes of the movie confirm what must be July’s fear that the future will be dull.  If that was her point, then bravo.  Wild success.

Might I suggest that a Christian worldview blows a film like this to smithereens?  On one hand, the film on the whole comes off as tragically shallow.  Commitment is farcical in the world of “The Future”.  That might explain why Sophie and Jason are happily unmarried.  It might also explain why the thought of adopting the cat for longer than they originally planned turns their worlds upside down.  Indeed the only character that affirms commitment in any way is an old man name Joe, who is seen as a man losing his grasp on reality.  (This same actor gives voice to the moon, which at one point confesses to Jason, “I don’t know anything.  I’m just a rock in the sky.”)

On the other hand, “The Future” does something far worse.  With all its whimsy it is actually a fairly safe movie, as far as risk-taking goes.  It will feel to the viewer like it’s taking big risks, but I would suggest that it’s not.  It asks some questions, then somewhere along the line it gets sidetracked, and that’s when the boredom sets in.  This movie has no categories for “Thy kingdom come”.  If it did, it wouldn’t be boring.  It has no characters that see the future for what it should be – intimidating and uncertain, sure, but also gloriously secure.  That’s why we can say, “Thy kingdom come”, and have no fear.

The future, for Christians, is not soaked in boredom, but in thrills and constant fascination.  That’s why, “The Future”, for this Christian, is a failure

*****

This essay is also featured on TMC’s Artist Circle blog in a series that explores cinema from a biblical worldview.  View that blog here.

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About Collin Damon Welch
Collin worked in the film/TV industry for a while. Now he's pursuing ministry. He and his incomparably beautiful wife Nicole live in Chicago.

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