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.


But what is a metaphor, exactly? How it is different from metonymy, simile, allegory, and synecdoche, for example? As Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary has it, a metaphor is "a figure of speech

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.


by on ‎07-28-2011 12:42 PM

Ellen, thanks for bring this subject of Miranda July and metaphor, etc., to your board.  I love her, she's one of my favorite writers.  I have her book of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You , but I've never seen her movies.  I'll have to find them. 


Ilana brought July and this book to our attention by way of a quirky homemade video advertisement, made by July.  I wish I could find it and show it to you.  It was so off-the-wall, silly, I laughed my head off, and couldn't resist buying this book. But, this video wasn't enjoyed by some of the other board participants -  Different humor for different folks, I guessed.  I also love Aimee Bender.  I have all of her books. 


I love reading this type of writing, because my analytical mind loves working through them like puzzles.  I learn a lot about myself, and a lot about other feeds me like yummy brain candy.


When I write my own short stories, and poems, I always wonder where these themes in my head come from, I don't fully understand it.....and It feels crazy, and odd, to have to explain it to people in my writers' group.  Words, at times, seem a mystery to some straight-forward fiction writers.  They see a cigar as just a cigar.  But, getting a lot of discussion around the written word, is a joy.   

by Blogger Ellen_Scordato on ‎07-28-2011 02:30 PM

thanks, Kathy. I'll have to try Aimee Bender - never read her! love the exchange of ideas.


by on ‎07-29-2011 01:39 PM

Ellen, I was wondering if you'd ever talked to writers who wrote in abstract thought, or metaphor....asking them if THEY knew the reasons why they wrote in this manner?


Not long ago, I brought this subject up to a friend/therapist, telling him about a book of poems I just received, but couldn't understand their meanings.  I asked him if he could understand this type of writing.  He said, not always...and said, there is a way to study this type of writing, and gave me the name of a man, a psychoanalyst, who wrote a paper about it, I think it was in the late 1800's, or early 1900's.  I Googled the name, I think he was German, and It was translated into English, but I couldn't make heads or tails out of what he was saying.  ..... Now I can't remember the man's name. Anyway, this isn't much help.  I know, in this process of understanding abstract, it helps to understand the mind behind it.


What I write isn't abstract, but metaphor, and it still isn't always understood....which definitely narrows the reader field down to a small few.   But, when I'm able to talk to people I know, who don't get it, It's magic when I see their eyes light up!  And then there are the few who think it's good, just because they DON'T understand it.  ha!  Then the select few who can take it apart and put it back together, giving several different meanings, some of which I hadn't thought about...but definitely there!  It's sometimes frustrating, sometimes fun, sometimes's all a mixed bag!

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