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The Future: Cats Talk and Time Stops

Miranda July's latest maintains some of her trademark quirk, but unlike in her previous film, that quirk is employed for darker, edgier purposes.

The Future: A Talking Cat and Stopping Time


It was a long six years ago that Miranda July first graced the independent film world, with her feature debut Me And You And Everyone We Know. Writer, director, and star, July burst onto the scene with a quirky/twee sensibility that was the apotheosis of young-hip in the Wes Anderson-watching, Bright Eyes-listening 2000s. However, in the time that has passed since 2005, the cultural interest in such an aesthetic has waned; the financial crisis of 2008 ushered in a new era of pessimism for the American outlook, and accordingly, a darker sort of pop-culture sensibility has taken reign.


And yet, July’s second feature outing has fortuitously maintained its connection to the cultural pulse. Initially inspired by what July terms here as an “abrupt breakup,” The Future was conceived as a dark, stormy follow-up to her previous hit. While July doesn’t skimp on the quirks that make her style unmistakably hers – the film features a talking cat, a conversation with the moon, and a moment where time on earth stops – she has put those stylistic tics in the service of a more alarming, brooding artistic mission. I had the chance to sit down with July recently.


The Future: A Talking Cat and Stopping Time


Tribeca: It’s been six years since your last film was released, and in those years you’ve been doing a lot of different work in a lot of different mediums. What was the gestation for this film like?


Miranda July: It started as a performance; I didn’t have any of the pressures of thinking it was my second movie. I thought maybe it would get turned into an experimental, audience-participation kind of movie. That performance had the talking cat and the idea of stopping time.


I had done a lot by the time I realized that it would be a movie, [that] it would be very narrative. I’m kind of always working on other things, but obviously once you start pre-production you kind of kiss everything else goodbye. That kind of drives me crazy. There are a lot of inviting distractions when I’m working on something.


Tribeca: If you’re working on a film, and you set it aside and go work on something else, and then you come back to the film, do you return with a kind of new perspective or angle on it?


Miranda July: Yeah. I mean, you can never tell whether you’re just playing hooky and you’re afraid of your script, or if there’s really stuff you need to learn by not sitting in front of the computer. It’s a little bit of both, probably. I did tend to feel like each time I went away and came back, I was able to see something I hadn’t before. The disciplined side of me doesn’t want that to be true, but yeah, I think these built-in escapes are important.


The Future: A Talking Cat and Stopping Time


Tribeca: As an artist, why do you think that is the case?


Miranda July: I guess it’s like other muscles in your body. You don’t just run all the time – you need to relax, and relax not just by relaxing but by doing other things. It’s not by force that you’re having good ideas – you grow good ideas. And to grow good ideas you need a lot of elements, you need to care for yourself. There’s a lot of different ways to do that. That’s easier said than done – sometimes you just really want to fix the problem.


Tribeca: But you feel like your best stuff comes when you’re not trying to violently will it into being.


Miranda July: Well, I think you have to do the violent willing, in a way, because that’s your devotion. It’s almost like, telling the gods, I am willing to die for this. And then they let you have it, but you don’t get it through dying, you get it through some other accidental thing, but it’s your willingness – your focus is important, it allows the right thing to come in from the side. I think the trying is an important part of the ritual.


The Future: A Talking Cat and Stopping Time


Tribeca: “Quirky” is a word that was associated a lot with your last film, and the zeitgeist it appeared in, the artistic climate. In this film, some of the quirky things the characters do were ways of avoiding larger responsibilities or fears in their lives. What are your thoughts on how you employ quirk in this film?


Miranda July: I consciously wanted it to feel pretty light for the first third of the movie, where you maybe almost thought it was a quirky movie – not that I didn’t genuinely like that stuff, [but] it just wasn’t where I was headed with this. But then, exploring what happens when you take away the distractions, like the Internet, I thought would be interesting: what is that void you’re avoiding? What happens when you don’t go into it in a healthy way, but instead try to flee it, and live in a world where there isn’t the expectation of having a soul, or being creative? None of that stuff is very quirky, to me, but I did want to come at it in surprising ways as opposed to just simply, “Now it’s gonna be dark.”


Tribeca: So when did you realize you wanted to employ a darker tone for your second film?


Miranda July: That was the first thing that I knew. I was editing the first movie and going through a very abrupt breakup. Which, you know, pretty quickly stopped being an inspiration. I moved on, but I remember that moment – here I am editing this pretty hopeful, funny movie, and all I was interested in was, how can one show the feeling of murder? I feel like someone just died! How could I get that across? The stopping time thing was one of the first images that came to me.


The Future: A Talking Cat and Stopping Time


Tribeca: That’s a kind of stunning moment, when one of the characters stops time. How do you intuitively work something like that – something magical-realist, let’s say – into a more realistic work, without rupturing the fabric of the work?


Miranda July: I think the last movie was actually the only thing I’ve made that kind of stuck to literal reality. It’s very comfortable to me, to show feelings through – not just metaphor, but by any means necessary. How could I really show that kind of heartbreak without just, you know, someone being really bummed-looking? That’s usually what you get: a face. I’m used to doing [things differently] in fiction, where you have a metaphor, but sometimes even then I would invite in a supernatural character. It seemed great, in a movie, to get to really show that, and not even have anything very literary about it, to just depict the emotion. Those were the parts I was most confident about, because when I feel free I feel like I’m doing a good job, and those parts are very liberated. What was tougher, for this movie, was the more normal stuff.


Tribeca: I know that you write fiction, so it’s interesting to think about – obviously, in fiction, you can go into anyone’s head and talk about what they’re thinking. But with film, because you’re cut off from thought, you have to access those strong emotions in a different way. In that moment in your film, it felt like accessing the supernatural was the only way to honestly depict the character’s internal state.


Miranda July: Exactly. And then, I want to find a way to do that that’s very mundane, that isn’t splashy or flashy, so I was always trying to find the simplest way to do it, something that’s almost nothing.


The Future: A Talking Cat and Stopping Time


Tribeca: On a side note, one thing that I thought was funny – obviously, your film has a cat, which provides voice-over in certain sections, and I recently saw [July’s husband Mike Mills’] Beginners, which features a dog that also communicates. Was that just a coincidence?


Miranda July: No great story behind that, other than we chose each other to spend the rest of our lives with, and have lived together the whole time we were making these things. To me, it’s a very kind of, not conscious, but sweet, overlap, which speaks to the fact that we share a lot. Our sensibilities are really in sync. I think when we were working on our films, we saw them as so different – his dog is a real dog, and my cat is so symbolic; it seemed so different. But it doesn’t seem as different with them both in theaters now!


The Future opens Friday. Find tickets.


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