So, first, there are occasional small moments that I just find either endearing or cute or funny, and this helps with the film’s flow and momentum. Humour is like the most subjective thing, though, so sure, The Future will not make everyone giddy in that department.
But. What I really respond to is what I now realize to be the central theme of the movie, which is the fragility of our connections to people and ideas, and how the world outside of our own agendas is a harrowing, terrifying abyss. July’s character Sophie states early on how something like keeping up with the news is a task that she’s “so behind” on that she’s long since succumbed to not caring about it. She wants to keep track of current events, but she’s given up on that field altogether. “Why bother?” (this sentiment is repeated later on, on a global rather than personal level, in reference to the environment. We’ve ‘fallen behind on’ our maintenance of it, and people respond by not even bothering to fight for it anymore; Sophie’s bf Jason sells not one tree to anyone that isn’t Sophie).
Then, there’s the world Sophie has with Jason that encompasses her routines and schedules involving her life with him, which is the premiere responsibility of her daily life as they rely on each other for intimacy and companionship. As well, there are her career ambitions – gaining some sort of notoriety as a dancer – and her reliance on the internet, which is shown to be almost entirely superfluous to her as she struggles to think of anything necessary to research in the brief moments before her connection is shut off. All of these aspects of her life make up her own, readymade bubble, and her relationship to each is shown, one-by-one, to be incredibly fragile, irredeemably disrupted with only the slightest neglect.
Sophie’s attempt to start a hit youtube series of 30 Dances in 30 Days sees her giving herself an exciting (for her, anyway) utility of her artistic abilities that also relates to close quarters outside of her sphere (that plastic girl behind the counter). When Sophie struggles to come up with a first dance, she immediately falls behind schedule, gets frustrated, and, in a moment of feeling incompetent as an artist, channels her frustration in sex with a sleazy stranger (which dominos into her responsibilities toward her boyfriend Jason, the most impacting one).
She tumbles away from her responsibilities and into a void of unfamiliar routines (as a suburban mistress, as a non-artist, as a non-hipster), and this is portrayed emotionally in the film (as opposed to realistically or literally) via an onslaught of magic realist happenings, e.g. the talking moon, paused time, and people who age years and then decades right before her very eyes (one of a few instances that recalls Synecdoche, New York). Her detachment from any recognizable trait of the life she knows is made to be felt in us (the viewer) by detaching us from the flow and rhythms of the film’s first half (which was a portrait of complacent, harmless hipsters set within the rules of reality – albeit a twee reality that is situated on quirky gestures and actions. Significantly, and a bit heavy-handedly, this is shown in Jason’s dual attempts at stopping time; the first time it’s a cutesy pretend game in which the world resumes while he and Sophie pause, and then he later he stops time ‘for real,’ as he resumes amidst a paused world).
When Jason is destabilized from his life by Sophie’s 3:14am revelation, he likewise is detached from his schedules and responsibilities and falls into an abyss. His response is to not deal with it…to, as mentioned before, stop time. It’s an act that is initially meant to allow himself to gather his thoughts and relish his last few moments of ignorance before he learns of his girlfriend’s affair, annihilating the world he’s built for himself. He let’s it linger – for hours, then days, then weeks. The point where the film’s theme is most resonant is when he is told (by the moon…the quirk never completely goes away) that while he has effectively stopped time for himself, the world was still going, so when he ‘resumes’ time, he will pick up where he would have been had he not stopped time at all. He will already be without his girlfriend, and he also will have fallen irreparably behind in his other responsibilities (i.e. saving the planet, and caring for an unwell cat named Paw Paw, whose adoption day passes while Jason worries about his own emotional well-being, and results in the cat being put to sleep – the death of a life that was dependent on him).
So really, in the guise of an obnoxious twee, “high class mumblecore” film (as my friend David labeled it), it’s essentially a film about losing a grasp on what is inside and outside our respective bubbles, agendas, routines, etc. Things typically fall back in line over time, but the damages depicted in The Future are of magnitudes that preclude healing. This molds July’s sternly pessimistic vision as a response to the disengaged optimism exemplified in the first 45 minutes. I thought July was erring toward the end by suggesting a reconciliation for Jason and Sophie (she actually may have very well done that), but I’m pleased when the credits finally begin to roll – before too much hopes sets in, leaving the two in their lonely and alienated outer spaces, even within what used to be their one private space. Their precious ‘secret signal’ (Peggy Lee’s “Where or When”) doesn’t even work as intended, failing to put them back where they were.