Miranda July: Reality Dreamed and Dreaming Realized

Karen Pyudik

Ado Kyrou said that French filmmaker Georges Melies achieved in his films “the perfect mixture of reality dreamed and dreams made real.”  Much of the Melies spirit lives in the art of Miranda July. Some critics regard this soft-spoken, mild-mannered, yet casually guarded thirty-something as one of America’s finest contemporary artists. Though consensus of her place in cinema remains in dispute, only a handful of artists can boast that their work warrants a major debate about what constitutes filmmaking.

 

Equally fluent in writing, cinema, hypertext and performance, the precocious polymath first broke big at the Oberhausen Film Festival with the experimental video “Nest of Tens” in 2000 and then topped herself with the indie blockbuster “Me, You, and Everyone We Know.” Though her first feature conforms to more conventional notions of narrative filmmaking on its surface, July blurred boundaries between film and performance art. The film won the Camera D’or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, perhaps the greatest honor a first-time director may receive in her field.

 

July’s new feature “The Future” continues her voyage within. That is not to say July proves as solipsistic as skeptics have claimed. Rather, the dominant motivation of her art is to reunite her outer and inner realities into a gestalt that accommodates the existential absurdities of life.

 

“The Future,” which premiered this year at the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals, tells the story of Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater). The couple lives in a small Los Angeles apartment and both work in unfulfilling jobs. Sophie teaches dance to toddlers and Jason works in tech support. At the outset, their relationship appears gentle and joyful.

 

In one month, they will adopt a stray cat named “Paw Paw.” The cat is sick and requires serious care. Paw Paw may die in six months or he may live for five more years. Though committed to the care of their feline ward, Sophie and Jason dread their loss of freedom at the end of the month.

 

Burdened by the new responsibility, they quit their jobs, unplug the Internet and tell friends they are pursuing their dreams from now on. Sophie wants to invent experimental dances that will go viral on YouTube. Jason becomes a freelance environmentalist by selling trees door-to-door.  But as the month slips away, Sophie cannot come up with any original ideas.  July creates a poignant portrait of an artist in paralysis. Sophie hides under the covers unable to move.

 

At a moment of acute desperation, she calls a stranger. Marshall, a small businessman, lives in the Valley with his young daughter. The director has revealed so much of Sophie’s private longing that watching her hooking up with Marshall jars the viewer. However, their affair is not borne of the spiritual or physical passions found in most Hollywood films. Perhaps a more illuminating analysis would consider the sexual relations depicted in her mentor Rick Moody’s novel “The Ice Storm.” In that book and subsequent film, characters employ sex to escape the quiet desperation of their banal existence in Watergate-era New England.

 

Likewise, July noted in a recent interview with Emanuel Levy, “Maybe most importantly, I began to understand that the affair wasn’t about love or lust, it was her desire to flee her own dimensionality, as if it might be possible to live in 2D, or without a soul. I think this is kind of what fame seems to promise: You will be entirely lit up by other people’s gazes, and won’t have to face the difficult task of igniting yourself ever again.” In Marshall’s suburban world, Sophie does not have to be an artist. As long as she stays there, she’ll never fail again.

 

Living in two scary, empty and separate realities, Sophie and Jason must find each other again even if it means realigning time, space and their own souls in order to come home. Fantasy sequences fill the movie in an enchantingly illogical way. Jason asks the moon for advice and the moon answers noncommittally. Large portions of the story are recounted from the perspective of Paw Paw. Most strikingly, July creates a wonderful illusion of frozen time. By using successive stills that fade into an elapsing temporal collage, July creates the illusion that the world has stopped turning so those two may get together again.

 

July and Linklater offer moving performances as two confused people who lose themselves, as well as each other. “The Future” concludes on an appropriately ambiguous note. Just as in life, the narrative has not been tied up into a neat little bow. July gives no indication that the couple will achieve reconciliation.

 

“The Future” is an elegiac work filled with both alienating and tender moments. On a microcosmic level, it plays out the utopian dream of unlimited love and creativity to its dysfunctional endgame. Everything goes wrong. But the film’s institutional modes of representation veil July’s greater goal.

 

The director encourages the viewer to assume a new and active engagement with the image.  By using a variety of improvisational methods designed to disrupt reason and engage intuition, July produces an evocative abstract fantasy with a unique moral and aesthetic code of representation. She visualizes the mysterious melancholia of an artist lost.

Author Bio:

Born in St.Petersburg Russia, Pyudik graduated from the Hermitage School of Art History. In 1992 she moved to Los Angeles to continue her undergraduate work in Art History at UCLA. After graduation she did art and historical research for an A&E renowned documentary series History of Christianity. In the fall of 1999 Pyudik was accepted into the Producing Program at the American Film Institute on an American Express Scholarship, awarded on behalf of Academy Award Nominee Brenda Blethyn, where she successfully produced five short narrative films and received her MFA in Producing. Her thesis project, "Ubuntu's Wounds," won Pan-African Film Festival, the Kodak Audience Award, the Caucus Award, the Martin Ritt Award, and the DGA Award. "Ubuntu's Wounds" was screened at Cannes Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival. It was acquired and shown by HBO. In 2004 Pyudik produced a feature film"Malachance" (New York Times Critics' Pick, Cannes Film Festival, AFIFest, Cinevegas, IFP).

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