The wife and I went on a mini-vacation to the Red River Gorge/ Natural Bridge area. We camped one night near Sky Bridge, then spent 3 days in a little cabin with no [working] TV or internet, and our cell phones barely worked. It was wonderful. I was forced to rediscover books, like that guy at the ending of “The Cable Guy”, and I was so affected by Wendell Berry’s world that when we got back, I canceled my Netflix streaming account.
Oh, Netflix… We had some laughs. A George Thorogood song comes to mind:
“For 5 years she was so nice; Lawd, she was lovey-dovey…”
Except for us it was 5 months of at least 200 movies and TV episodes, averaging over a movie a day, with less than half of those being worth our time to begin with. Finally, as the sun rose over the hemlocks and birches, and the fog lifted from the lake below, it was revealed to me that you, Netflix, are a depraved, enabling succubus (which I might return to for the last seasons of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, don’t be angry). Until then, for the hours you’ve frittered away from me and my true love, I recommend that you roast comfortably in Gehenna, under the genre of “Dark, Cerebral Swedish Comic-Spoof”.
Smeagol is free! Or at least back to a reasonable, human schedule. Instead of spending 30 minutes trawling through 200,000 mediocre things to watch, or deciding which of about 100 classics to re-watch, we now wait for something we’re actually interested in to hit video or the cheap theater. God bless the Village 8. When I’m there, I feel like I’ve warped back to ’98 for a $3 matinee of some fantastic vision of the future. And lo’ and behold, that’s where we caught Miranda July’s latest, “The Future”.
I enjoyed it well enough, about the same as July’s previous film, “Me, You, and Everyone We Know.” Where both of July’s films are anchored by her too-clever-hipster introspectives, John Hawkes drives the story as a disillusioned, put-upon father in the first film. July’s counterpart in “The Future” is played soulfully by Hamish Linklater, who conveys equal parts wonder and horror at his newfound power to freeze and/or waste and/or speed up time itself. His girlfriend Sophie (July) has a similar ability in her heightened awareness of her and Jason’s (Linklater) speeding mortality. It’s left up to the viewer to decide whether or not such time-warping is a product of the characters’ actual supernatural abilities, or their colorfully tweaked imaginations. The central message of the film concerns how we manage or mismanage our time, specifically our time together, and explores how things might change according to the length of time given. July’s script is immediately engaging, with gems throughout, but her character felt too inconsistent- an introvert suddenly acting as an extrovert, for seemingly no reason other than to add conflict. To be fair, Sophie does later admit to Jason that she is “wild”.
Sophie and Jason want to adopt a cat named Paw-Paw (also played, in part, by July, for real), but must wait 30 days for his wounded paw to heal before bringing him home. That alone hit close to home for us- we adopted Mokey the Malefactress (see the banner above) almost a year ago, and our lives have been enriched since, I’ll admit. We almost lost her to a botched spay job, and I’ll go so far to say I’m glad she’s not dead. It only made her stronger… So, Paw-Paw shows up sporadically through the film, offering moments of zen on the nature of time, happiness, the afterlife, and so forth. [Spoiler-ish note: Don't be fooled by the trailer. If you overly-love cats or overly-hate performance art, you will despise this film. Just ask my wife.]
There’s a great bit early on in the film, also seen in the trailer, which relates to our recent experience “roughing it” in the Gorge. Sophie and Jason decide to reevaluate their lives and “clean house” before bringing Paw-Paw home. Sophie decides to cancel the internet, and informs Jason that they have about an hour to look up everything important before it’s shut off. As they scramble away at their laptops for a minute, Jason asks in a panic, “But what if there’s something we really need to know, like medical stuff or news?” Sophie responds with, “I thought about that, and we can go to the library, or just not know.” After another minute, they share a glance, and both shut their laptops long before the hour is up.
It’s this short scene, a disturbingly funny dance number, and Jason’s council with the old man that stuck with me the most. As for the latter, Jason meets Joe while soliciting to sell trees to help curb global warming, and finds a mystical connection with the old man. At one point, Joe prophesizes to Jason: “You’ll be together for a long time, and it just gets better… actually, you’re just in the middle of the beginning.”
Maybe I’m gleaning too much from the film’s title alone, but it did make me consider my own future. There’s an interesting branch of theology called “presentism” that skirts the endless lines of argument between determinism and free will. In brief, presentism states that the future simply does not exist as anything other than plans, concerns, and desires; God has no need of a physical, concrete future, and cares only for us here and now. C.S. Lewis preferred “eternalism” to what he called the “chronological snobbery” of presentism. The eternalist places God outside of time, viewing the past, present and future as “blocks” of one eternally present dimension, i.e. time (think of Billy Pilgrim and the Tralfamadorians “unstuck in time” in Slaughterhouse Five (also Jason in The Future, to a fault)). Not to say that the eternalist’s future is predetermined, since there is an endless number of future “blocks” or possibilities to be chosen freely. To me, both perspectives state the obvious, that the past informs the present into the direction of the future. Or, any prophecy or portent is reduced to God’s dynamic awareness of our present actions and thoughts, measured against his own, and against the past.
Man, weren’t we talking about a movie earlier? Well, to wrap this up, laboring over the arguments of eternalism and presentism wears me out. All I know is, when I do think of all the future possibles, I get anxious. I would do better to keep in mind what Christ said about the future:
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34 NIV) I’ll take that advice over that of Fleetwood Mac. In the movie, Sophie and Jason were so wrapped in anxiety over their future that they neglected their immediate needs. They talk on and on about the changes they need to make before bringing Paw-Paw into their lives, but we never see them buy cat food or any other cat paraphernalia.
So, to my mind, the future acts best as a warning or a wish, i.e. a goal, like the Greek telos, or end. Telos is different from terminus, that other kind of end meaning a boundary, as in the end of the line. A terminus is always coldly final and static, whereas a telos can be eternal. The many things we surround ourselves with, all slouching toward a flying-cars future, are mere tools- means to that same telos. In this-here face-tweet-flix-droid-text.com multiverse, I feel like we’re talking to our friends and family less. We’re supposed to be more connected now than ever before with an explosion of media options. Yet the longer I spend using these tools, the more distracted I feel- perpetually attached and dependent on these things over their ultimate purpose: communicating with another real, living being. I’ve been choosing the means over their end. Hence the trip last month to the mountains, and the following cancelation of Netflix and facebook. I highly recommend it, at least give it try over a long weekend, for goodness sakes. It’s not that hard. Take a comfortable sleeping bag and as little else as possible (make sure the wife is cool with all this- take extra blankets). Learn to appreciate the things on the other side of your smartphone’s screen. Get a good tent, or sleep in your car for a night or two. Make some tuna salad and parmesan noodles from a pouch. Wash up at a Shoney’s or Flying J or something (don’t act so upity), then take on a short scenic trail or two, then come home, get pizza and turn everything back on if you must. It’s worth it. I see the future becoming more like that weekend- we’re outdoors more, and able to handle the weather. We’re making music, reading, and cooking our own food. We’re more inclined to speak slower (and yet more), face to face with one another, at least while our batteries charge.