The extremity of difference between Melancholia and The Future cannot be stressed enough; one, a catatonic display of cosmic madness, and the other, a superficial break-up story narrated by a cat. At first glance there is nothing remotely similar between Lars Von Trier and Miranda July’s films. But upon closer inspection, they join a growing list of films which represent women in daring new lights. Dividing the film between sisters Justine (Dunst) and Claire (Gainsbourg), Von Trier examines the intensely acute anxieties faced by women, questioning the practicality of love and the fatuous intelligence of men. July’s film expresses a fear of the eponymous future using a similar experimentation with time and space, laughing nervously in the face of biological clocks and mid-life crisis’.
The opening of Melancholia has been praised for its impressionistic montage; a series of excruciatingly slow sequences depicting the gloomy end to Justine and Claire’s secluded world. It has been claimed that it offers an artistic promise that the rest of the film fails to deliver on. But this abstraction serves to hint at more complex suggestions made later on in the film about women’s apprehensions with life. Justine, wearing a beautiful white wedding gown, has become entangled in roots from the surrounding trees. Claire, clutching at her child, trudges knee-deep through the turf of a golf course, her face contorted in a gasp for air. We cannot yet see what they are running from, but they are clearly weighed down by two signifiers of femininity; the wedding dress, and the child.
What else is interesting about Melancholia? Claire’s husband believes in science and absolute certainty, whereas Claire is cautious, relying on instinct. Despite the siblings’ major differences, it is Justine who sums up the women’s higher level of awareness, ‘life is only on earth, and not for very long.’ Dunst’s character won’t just resound with those who have suffered with mental illness. Justine also has a general lethargy towards modern pressures. She is not desirous of her new husband, she lacks passion for her high-flying job, and makes it seem okay to not feel completely satisfied. Life is no fairy tale, and Justine more than embraces the end of the world as an antithesis to that concept.
In The Future, flighty Sophie (July) returns to work at a kids dance studio and bumps into two friends. Alarmed to see that they are both heavily pregnant, she cannot believe that time has passed so quickly since she last saw them. They tell her that being pregnant is ‘a drag, but it’s also amazing.’ A series of cuts reveal the families grow old before Sophie’s eyes, whilst she remains stuck behind the reception desk. ‘It’s kind of a drag,’ Sophie remarks. ‘But it’s amazing?’ offers her friend. ‘Not really…’ (Watch it here) Sophie shows no desire in the film to bear children, nor to marry her boyfriend Jason. But here, a melancholy falls over her, as if disappointed with her lack of connection with their full lives.
Despite feigning a happy suburban existence for a short while, Sophie quickly becomes confused as to who she is trying to be. She can either live out the image of a ‘grown up’ existence, with her older lover and their weekend barbecues, or, she can return to Jason, where ‘growing up’ is the elephant in the room, brought to light by a sick cat. Either way, Sophie can’t find happiness. She is followed to her new life by a yellow t-shirt, which she used to stroke for comfort. It haunts her, reminding her of the child-like way she used to live, but also of the reassurance that life brought. In a bizarre but touching sequence, she climbs inside the t-shirt, stretching it out and zealously eating up its promise of protection. Her new partner looks on in admonishment.
The surface features of a Miranda July film may seem twee and stylistic, but given enough time, her saccharine soundings actually resonate much more deeply. Me and You and Everyone We Know is a more endearing and ‘together’ piece of work, but The Future is mature and less simpering. The Future conveys a timid uncertainty about relationships and life, but there is a confidence in July’s assertions which make her out to be a whole lot smarter than her cat voice would lead you to believe.
Both films take time to reflect on the opposite of sex, although hardly in a positive light. For Melancholia‘s Claire there is nothing worse than the thought of her life ending; but for her husband, there is nothing worse than the thought of being wrong. Jason in The Future admits he just wants another ‘normal, boring day’, despite the threat of losing the love of his life. Justine and Sophie are the types of characters usually sidelined in films; the baddies, guilty of usurping the natural order of romantic love. But here they are the anti-heroes in two films very much about, and for, girls.