As an artist, Miranda July has presented her performances and videos at prestigious venues such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum. As a film director, she won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival and four prizes at the Cannes Film Festival for her first feature-length film Me and You and Everyone We Know. As a writer, her fictional stories have appeared in The Paris Review, Harper’s, and The New Yorker and have been published in twenty countries.
Miranda July is a woman of many faces, a true art- ist who was described by The Guardian as ‘one of the lucky ones who are capable of doing everything’. It is the rare honesty of her work that connects to audiences in ways both simple and complex, both touching and confusing. And though there is a melancholy streak in all her work one feels that her output is ultimately optimistic, a quality which – especially after so much disaffection and cynicism in the arts – makes her so very modern.
Now, the 37 year old all-around visionary presents her second movie The Future – in which she illus-trates a couple’s fear that their dreams are dead and their future has already been written. Is Miranda July contemplating her own future, one complicated by her own recent marriage? Or is she addressing the fears inside us all? An open talk about the past, the present and the future.
Miranda, it’s been about six years since your last movie came out. What took you so long to return to cinema?
Well, I do a lot of things. After the first movie, I wanted to write a book, which I did, and I promoted that just like I’m promoting this. Then I wrote a performance and that performance began to evolve into this movie and that was sort of a process. I made art for the Venice Biennale. It’s just not the kind of thing I want to do that often, make movies. I want to get to do it again, but just not back to back.
Did you also feel that after the first film had become such a success there was pressure to make a second film? Did that cause you to really take your time with it?
I certainly felt a pressure, but I had already decided, ‘As soon as I’m done with this movie’ – which I didn’t know it would take so much time – ‘I can finish my book, which is my real thing.’ So what I did had to do with my plan in my head, but it also turned out to be a good idea to get some distance and then approach it not even through trying to write a movie actually, but through this performance, which felt quite free. I mean, no one cares what my next per- formance is, you know. It’s sort of a liberating medium.
Is the couple you are portraying in some way intended to represent a diagnosis of American thirty-something people?
No. That sort of analysis only happens at a certain point. You never sit there thinking, ‘I’m going to diagnose…’ But I do try and make it somewhat honest and I think you don’t illustrate you and your friends’ best traits, you know what I mean? If you’re compiling traits, trying to create a character, you notice the things about you and your friends that are most, sort of, troubling, because those are the things that are worth exploring. That’s how it ended up.
I wonder about the meaning of the title. Are you saying that this is the future, in a pessimistic way? Or are you more optimistic, say- ing that we do have a future?
It’s obviously so open, and that’s part of what I like about it. But I think automatically, when each of us personally thinks about the future, there’s such a strange combination of all our worrying – every worry we have is pretty much about the future – and all our hopes. It’s this really mixed thing. And it’s all made up, there’s nothing real in the future. It’s just this reflection. And then the movie’s about time and I think it’s something that’s overcome by the characters. I’d say, if there’s some victory by the last scene, it’s that they are just where they are. You just have no idea what’s next, there’s no way to dream from that point. It’s just ‘Here we are’.
Do you try to plan your future?
Well, yeah. I mean, you can’t make a movie without planning the future. Yeah, definitely. I’m doing the wrong things if I want to be a completely present-oriented person, because I always have to look ahead. There’s a lot of anxiety in that, but that’s also what propels me. You know, the thought of coming to a festival or just of finishing each project has a lot of excitement in it.
It’s a rather unusual device to have a cat narrator, even more so a dead cat narrator. Can you tell us how that came about?
It was in the performance version. Early on I had the idea that there should be two parallel stories and I didn’t initially have any connection between the couple and the cat. I think I needed a break from the couple and wanted some other reality. I wanted something so far away and very sympathetic and in a way sadder and more honest. So I spent a long time on this cat and writing its sad tale, which changed a lot, before I finally realized, ‘Oh, this connects to them.’ And not just in the story, that they’re adopting it, but really what it means to them. To me it ended up feeling like that essential thing that you can’t be careless with in a relationship, but that you still almost accidentally destroy.
I think it’s a great idea. When he starts talking about adoption, you immediately think about a child or a baby – not about a cat.
Right, it’s also a way to avoid making a movie about a baby, which just seems so unappealing to me. It also came very gradually. When I first started the performance, I wasn’t thinking about babies at all, but then as this movie took longer to make, as movies do, I was like, ‘Ha, what do you know? It’s later than I thought.’ I’m still okay, but you know you can’t be pregnant in your movie if you’re in it.
You turned 37 on the day your movie premiered, a lucky coincidence, and you say the subject of babies is unappealing.
Or just narrower than I was interested in.
But the characters in the movie are around the same age, in their mid-thirties. Is that idea of approaching this deadline at some point, is that something that you’ve grappled with?Of suddenly realizing, ‘Oh God, I’m an adult now.’
I got married during the time I was making this movie, so I was starting to have the sense, in both a sweet way and a scary way, ‘Oh, this is it. This is the life I’ve chosen.’ Like, I’m not going to marry everyone, I’m just going to marry this one person, you know. In doing that, life became sort of finite. This person till the end. I was starting to have a picture of – I mean who knows what will happen – but some sense of limitation in a way, in a way that’s realistic. Like, I’m not going to go to every single country. You think in your twenties, ‘I’ll probably do everything. Why not, I’m so young?’ I think that’s shifted. And then certainly seeing friends getting pregnant. You know, my friends are like, having their second kids now and I’m like, “ What about the first… okay.” That’s also a very working woman thing. I could have made a whole movie that got into that more, but I didn’t saddle Sophie with every single issue of mine. (Laughter)
Deciding that this is the person for the rest of your life, there can also be something that ’s very liberating about that. Freeing yourself of all these options that you thought you had and actually making that decision.
Right. We would joke right before we got married, each thing that we did that was kind of a drag, like taking out the trash or whatever, we’d say, ‘This, forever.’ Or if we had a fight, I’d be like, ‘Great. This, forever.’ It was a joke, but I’m glad we were open about how horrible that sounded, you know? Then it is true, now, after wearing it in a little – it’s been close to two years now – it’s not all those things, it doesn’t feel like that anymore. It feels a lot lighter than that. It’s actually more exciting now than it was right when it was happening.
Was it difficult to strike a balance between surrealism and reality? And also the sadness and the humor?
Yeah. I wrote it that way, and I knew I wanted… I like movies where you think it’s kind of going one way and you suddenly realize you’re totally somewhere else. But it is a little scary because there is something instinctual about making things consistent. When people are laughing at the beginning, which is right, I think, ‘Okay, soon there’ll be less laughs.’ Ultimately it’s a pretty sad movie. To me that was a great challenge, to be willing to have some parts that just were sad. Writing funny things is kind of fun. It’s sort of reassuring. But sadness, going there with an audience, is a really interesting feeling.
Even though there is this melancholy streak in your work, would you say that it’s ultimately positive?
Sure. I don’t think you come out of the theatre being depressed. I don’t know what you feel actually. But I don’t think it’s just an empty feeling of, ‘Nothing’s valuable, nothing’s worth anything.’ I mean, I don’t feel that way. So hopefully it feels like you are filled with a feeling, you’re not stripped of something you had before, that there’s something you were given.
Feature taken from the Electronic Beats Magazine – The Visionary Issue. Get your copy here.