Watching The Future, I flashed back to the night in 1997 when I saw Breaking the Waves. As Lars von Trier's magic, tragic romance unfolded, I got impatient, then angry. But by the end I was weeping. Turned out I was watching something extraordinary.
The Future also is extraordinary, and that's not the only similarity. Both films are in the fantasy genre, though not in the swashbuckling, magic-potion sense that The Lord of the Rings and The Princess Bride are fantasies. I suppose magic realism is a better term, except I worry that magic realism is a category people use only because they distastefully associate fantasy with, well, swashbuckling and magic potions. Both The Future and Breaking the Waves take place in worlds that look a lot like this one. But in Breaking the Waves, God sure enough speaks in the voice of Emily Watson channeling Sean Connery. And in The Future's very first moments, a cat sure enough speaks in the voice of Miranda July channeling Ruth Gordon.
Like Breaking the Waves, The Future made me impatient at first, I think because writer-director July's brave drama reminded me of tediously quirky indie films like Gigantic and The Good Heart, in which the acting is catatonic and people's behavior doesn't make sense. Eventually, though, I settled into The Future's slightly jarring rhythms, and I was pleased - especially with some funny lines and their droll delivery by July and her costar Hamish Linklater. They play Sophie and Jason, a couple in their 30s who live in a funky Los Angeles apartment and work unsatisfying jobs.
They edge toward responsibility by resolving to adopt a rescue cat. When they learn that they'll own the cat in 30 days, they start making changes. Jason begins working as a canvasser for an environmental group, and Sophie embarks on an ambitious YouTube project. Then Jason strikes up a friendship with an elderly man (Joe Putterlik), Sophie insinuates herself into the life of a middle-aged dad (David Warshofsky), and I won't say more than that about the story.
I single out for praise a mysterious, deceptively light scene in which Sophie watches as people age rapidly. July presents this phenomenon with the same simple editing trick that Stanley Kubrick employed in 2001: A Space Odyssey, to marvelous effect. It's a fitting comparison, because like 2001 (and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), The Future uses supernatural elements to tell an ambiguous story that unfolds more like poetry than prose. There are stirring, moving themes - youth, age, parenthood, work, betrayal. Interpret them as you will.