Interview With The Future’s Miranda July

The Future is writer/director/actress Miranda July’s offbeat sophomore feature about a couple, Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), who plan to adopt an injured cat named Paw-Paw. This quirky film is, in fact, narrated by Paw-Paw, who discusses time and life as The Future depicts what happens between the couple in the month prior to they bring this cat into their home. The cockeyed July met with aroundphilly.com to talk about The Future.

Gary Kramer: Your film is quite idiosyncratic—with precious voiceovers, magical realism, and freeze-frame images. How/why do you think your work and quirkiness appeal to viewers?
Miranda July: It could have been a lot weirder, right? [Laughs] There may be these metaphysical, or spiritual, or psychological ideas, but we stayed very grounded in a physical reality—there is humor, surprise—a lot of things that you don’t have to have if you’re addressing those larger topics. The world is always kind of mundane, and kind of inviting.

GK: Part of The Future’s charm is the deadpan lines and asides. How do you describe your comic approach/timing?
MJ: I think I’m like that—that’s my saving grace in real life, too. I take things pretty hard. I’m pretty serious. Humor is the thing that saves me from annihilating myself with intensity. Mike [July’s husband, Mike Mills, writer/director of Beginners)] and I try to make each other laugh ten times a day, and it’s always the element of surprise that is a big part of that. I’m drawn to people like that.

GK: Why did you have Paw-Paw to narrate the film?
MJ: He narrates his own story. It’s kind of different. Rather than having the human projection on the animal, this is the story we don’t get to hear—inside of this animal… I have these two human characters, who had to be very self-involved and pretty internal for the story to work, but I also wanted a break from that, a parallel reality that is very honest and straightforward, and emotionally direct, and that’s hard to do with a human.

GK: The characters ascribe meaning to their lives, through objects or symbols—a song, a gold chain, or a yellow shirt. Why do you think people seek meaning in, or give such importance to talismans?
MJ: I feel like we’re physical beings—we’re objects too. It makes sense to me that other objects, whether they are alive or not, have meaning to us, and accrue meaning over time. Also, things that are hard to understand, you look for a vessel to put them in, or when they don’t exist, you look for some physical replacement for them, like a security blanket. When you are making a movie, all the objects are really useful in a visual medium; it allows you to be less esoteric about it all.
You could just say [Sophie’s dance in the yellow shirt] is performance art, but in the case of this story, it’s situated. It’s not just a random performance. You feel a certain way about the character, and the shirt, and the man who comes in[to the scene].

GK: There is a theme of Sophie hiding in the film. Why is this idea something you wanted to explore?
MJ: The time in my life when I was writing this was after my first feature, where I got a lot more intention on me than I had thought about. There was a lot of public/private exposing myself. There was a wanting to hide to create stuff to know who I was. Also, because I investigate that public/private stuff through the Internet, it seemed important. On the one hand, there’s this YouTube dance [in the film] where what you are doing doesn’t matter, it’s all about being watched. And then the dance Sophie ultimate does [in the shirt], she can’t see that she’s being watched. It stops being about that, and becomes intimate, and internal.

GK: You play with time in the film. How do you process the textures of time—the ways we manipulate time?
MJ: That’s always been so interesting to me. Mostly you’re not supposed to look at time; it’s just supposed to happen. I wanted to have a character who gets stuck in it—someone who is too aware of it. I have moments where I feel like I get paralyzed, or feel too acutely aware of each moment, so I wanted to try to show that—which is a hard thing to show. Also, it could be really boring. And then, I was just thinking, having this new awareness of time you have in your 30s, where things feel quite finite. I don’t know if it was because I met Mike and committed to him for forever, but I’m thinking a lot more about death. If you vow to be with someone until you die, are you just sort of vowing to die? Whereas you might have lived forever if you hadn’t done that or something? [Laughs]. It was also the happiest moment in my life. That’s why we cry.

GK: The emotional component of the film is very personal—some will feel deeply for the characters and their relationship(s) others may not care at all about them. Why you think your work engenders such polarizing responses?
MJ: It’s not unique to me; it’s anything that hasn’t been done already before. That’s going to elicit….some people are going to hate that. To some degree, being in your work, it’s a little more annoying if you don’t like the movie. It’s that person’s fault. Whereas if there’s a director who casts some charming person, you can pull it apart—she’s great, but I don’t like the movie…

GK: How did you work with Hamish Linklater, your co-star in the film?
MJ: A lot of it is picking a person who gets you. Are we easy together? You can’t fake that. Working with him, he’s not that character—he’s full of energy, and comes into a room singing. You have to see the character in the person, and sometimes, he would slap my hand away because I was physically changing his position of how he was sitting. We really wrestled together with me carving out the character I wanted, and it’s a testament to him that he’s not that guy.

GK: The visuals are very striking—from the corduroy sofa, to Paw-Paw in his cage. How did you conceive of The Future on a visual level?
MK: There were years of gathering pictures—which is easy to do on the Internet—with different department heads. Images will pop into your head—the paws, me in the shirt—and the images come first. You are often building the narrative from those. It’s both—you end up having to fill in the spaces between the images.

GK: What about the ideas of truth and lies, which are addressed in your film?
MK: As one who makes something up, you’re interested in lies, and I come from a family…my dad’s a real storyteller, and not a liar. I realize in my family, it’s so normal to lie to tell the truth—a more accurate truth. I have to lie to more accurately convey this.

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Gary Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based film critic who thinks Sandra Bullock mambos. He likes eating ethnic food and watching ethnic movies—though not necessarily both at the same time or from the same country.

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