More than occasionally, you’re going to want to smack the leads in The Future, the new film written and directed by and starring Miranda July. Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are the kind of thirty-five-year-olds for whom turning off the internet and quitting their day jobs does everything and nothing, for whom the prospect of failure and envy of more successful peers is debilitating, infantilizing. They’ve never been smacked by life before because they’re too self-conscious, self-absorbed to live, to confront dreams, sometimes to even have them. They’d rather just sit around and take themselves seriously.
The film opens with a too-symmetrical shot of the couple sprawled across a couch, their legs tangled together, their faces illuminated by their matching macs. Already, you feel as though you’ve been watching the couple sit for a very long time. This, in other words, is the abyss. “I’m not getting up,” Jason says when Sophie asks for a glass of water. “I’m just shifting my position.”
The first section of the film is full of such delightful little lines: “I always thought I’d be smarter,” Jason reminisces. Or, Sophie says her work (teaching dance to pre-schoolers) gets cancelled “on account of my being overqualified.” The actors’ delivery is spot-on: their characters are fully immersed in their self-absorption, but not so much that the film can’t show its awareness of how silly they sound.
Sophie and Jason even share physical qualities: a dark, tousled, almost muppet-like mop of hair atop a gangling, slouching, lumbering frame. But where Jason exudes harmlessness, Sophie remains ever-alert to imaginary harms. Wide-eyed and with lips slightly parted, she is always simultaneously shocked by the world and bored with it. Her inability or unwillingness to emote beyond this comatose gaze is but another symptom of her total self-absorption; so unimportant is the outside world to her that it doesn’t even garner a reaction.
July eschews grand transformational narratives—or any transformation at all, really—but she does endow her wimpy characters with grand cosmological powers along the way. Jason can stop time. Sophie can cheat and hurt. Perhaps this is part of what rubs so many the wrong way about July: her insistence on the importance, the dignity, of eminently unimportant people, even the unlikable ones.
By the end of The Future, life has dealt each of July’s characters a thorough smacking. But true to form, the characters refuse to take it, to even register it, really. The way they idle around their apartment in the last shot eerily echoes the film’s first. It is up to the audience to absorb the hurt. Unsurprisingly, Sophie and Jason don’t lift a finger to help.