When 'The Future' begins, a small, creaky voice speaks over a black screen and asks us if we know what it feels like to have lived outside your entire lives -- born outside, never lived inside, never petted, always wild. But now, the narrator tells us, he has found the people who make it safe to make the noise that means "I belong to you," which, as it turns out, is a purr. This is our narrator, Paw Paw, a wild cat with an injured paw who spends the majority of the movie waiting for the two people who rescued him and made him aware of what it's like to be inside, to count seconds on a clock, to know that there's more than day and night and birds, to come and take him home.
Like all of writer/director Miranda July's work, including her first full-length feature 'Me and You and Everyone We Know,' 'The Future' is about our endless search for connection and our equally endless capacity to screw it up. Paw Paw's would-be saviors, Sophie and Jason, think that their good deed will only cost them a few months of their lives; the cat is dying of renal failure and is quite old, so they figure they can return to their rather unfettered ways after Paw Paw shuffles off this mortal coil. To their surprise and horror, the vet at the shelter tells them that Paw Paw could live up to five years with the proper care and affection. Paw Paw has to stay at the shelter for a month to heal and then they must come get him; the shelter is packed and he will be euthanized if they don't. The couple (played by July and Hamish Linklater) decide they must spend the next month figuring out what they really want to do in life, because in five years, they'll be 40, which is almost 50, which is more or less too late to do anything they ever really wanted to do.
Jason declares his future will be decided by mystic signs and portents, like someone speaking while his or her hand is on a doorknob. Sophie disconnects their Internet so they can be more present and she can focus on making videos of herself dancing to upload to YouTube. However, their plan backfires miserably as they find themselves radically changing the course of their lives together in ways they couldn't have imagined.
There are only a handful of characters in 'The Future,' and they are all unforgettable. Marshall (David Warshofsky), a craggy man whose number Sophie finds on the back of a drawing that Jason bought at the shelter, wears a gold chain around his neck because, he says, it tells certain kinds of women that he's "ready to f*ck." He lives in Tarzana, has 1,000-thread-count sheets and owns his own business -- basically the total opposite of floppy-haired Jason.
Meanwhile, Jason becomes friends with an elderly fellow named Joe after answering Joe's ad in the Penny Saver for an old hairdryer. Joe is sort of a future version of Jason, absolutely content with his house full of gadgets he fixed up and old cards with dirty limericks he made for his wife. (Joe is played by the late Joe Putterlik.)
'The Future' is a stranger, darker and perhaps older movie than 'Me and You.' Yes, the wise narrator is a talking cat named Paw Paw, Jason can stop time with his mind and talk to the moon, and Sophie's blankie-like shirt follows her with a will of its own, but July's story takes emotional and conceptual risks. The movie is hard to swallow at times because humans are hard to swallow -- they're often messy, selfish, scared or sad. They make bad decisions that hurt other people and themselves. They make mistakes.
Viewers going into 'The Future' expecting a quirky comedy with a wacky talking cat will be sorely disappointed and possibly even pissed off. Those who go in with an open mind, however, will be rewarded. (I would be remiss if I didn't admit that it took well over 24 hours for me to come to terms with this myself.) July's bravery as a performer and storyteller to put herself and her characters in awkward or even harrowing situations is to be commended; to make this a happy, easy story would have been half-assed.