In Miranda July's new movie, The Future, a pending cat adoption throws Sophie (July) and her aimless boyfriend (Hamish Linklater) into a frenzy of bucket-list, do-it-before-time-runs-out living for 30 days. That is, if confused, quirky, whimsical 30-somethings had a bucket list. The very ill kitty they're adopting--is it a metaphor for parenthood, growing up, or death? Or is it an allegory of any of those things?
Her first movie, the award-winning Me and You and Everyone We Know, portrayed confused contemporary characters seeking connection in an isolating, fragmented world. Sweet, quirky indie darling: All these words describe July's unique body of work, which includes her two movies, a widely acclaimed book of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You , available on the Nook), live and recorded performance art installations, and a hotly awaited book of interviews with Pennysaver advertisers, loosely connected with the making of The Future, It Chooses You.
But what about The Future? With a voiceover by Paw Paw (actually July), the very sick cat Sophie and Jason are slated to adopt, the movie chronicles their slow spiral into chaos, as each tries to do something worthwhile, something great they've always wanted to do, before responsibility weighs them down.
Clearly, Paw Paw is responsibility, viewed as an impending, inescapable doom by these two clueless but well-meaning . . . hipster slackers, isn't exactly the right description, but it's close.
What else is Paw Paw, viewed as a rhetorical device? The poor diseased kitty might be a metaphor for adulthood or parenthood. Or even for death itself, come to take away our absolute freedom to choose what we want to do, when we want to do it. There are scenes in the film in which Miranda, who teaches dance to tots, imagines her charges growing up, suburbanizing, and producing the next generation of little girls in tights. It's pretty clear what Paw Paw stands for.
in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness."
That's a broad definition, as it turns out. It's very different from a simile, in which a comparison is made explicit: "Her eyes were like two pools of blue" or "The dance felt like a long, slow torture." The words "like" and "as" are sure signposts that we've got a simile on our hands, not a metaphor.
Even that phrase "have on our hands" is a metaphor. Neither you nor I are holding anything right now. (Except, maybe, a cup of coffee or a cat on the lap.)
Many, many figures of speech are varieties of metaphor. An allegory is a little different. Allegories can be linguistic or visual, using flat-out symbolic representations of abstract ideas. Symbols can be considered very extended metaphors, of course, but they are not interchangeable terms.
So what is going on in Miranda July's new movie? If you are a fan of indie film, of Miranda July, or of modern angst, you really need to see it and decide for yourself!
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Ellen Scordato has 25 years' book publishing experience as an editor, copy editor, proofreader, and managing editor. She's now a partner in The Stonesong Press, a nonfiction book producer and agency. In addition to her work at Stonesong, Ellen has taught grammar, punctuation, and style at the New School for more than 12 years in the English Language Studies department and taught English as a Second Language at Cabrini Immigrant Services.