Filmmaking couple Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy star as themselves in this postmodern documentary that focuses on Irishness and identity, but also looks at aging, parenthood, mental illness and memory.
The Future Tense is an ambitious undertaking. A self-aware 90-minute documentary (one could categorise it as an ‘essay film’) that engages in some whistle-stop philosophizing across a broad spectrum of ideas and thoughts.
But the married directorial duo of Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy together manage to unearth some glimpses of power and profundity.
Joe and Christine, who ‘play’ themselves (due to Covid issues at the time of production), are both cultural émigrés from Ireland who have settled in the UK but are now considering a return to their native land. Brexit and a fear of rising borders and walls have changed their psyche, if not their lives.
As they fly from London to Dublin they ponder, among other things, the brutality of both British and Irish history, what Irishness really means to them and their careers, what the future holds in the wake of Brexit and, really, what difference does it all make anyway, isn’t land just land and aren’t bricks just bricks?
The couple find themselves with pangs of guilt, questioning their Irishness and wonder aloud about how their lives might have been different if they had not fled the Troubles — even if their own youths weren’t particularly troubled. Had they been, might they have joined the fight?
As Christine ponders and location scouts the couple’s plan to make a fiction film about English-born IRA volunteer Rose Dugdale (crucially with the help of their English-born daughter), Joe instead reflects on his mother Helen, who was born in New York to immigrated parents and who was then shipped back to Ireland as an eleven-month old.
She struggled with her mental health — as a youth Joe thought of Gina Rowlands in the seminal A Woman Under the Influence — and was in and out of a now-abandoned hospital for the mentally ill.
Joe gets his hands on one of his mother’s medical files.
A line stands out: “I want to go home, but I don’t want to go back there.”
The audience might not have made sense of that phrase at the beginning, but thanks to Christine and Joe, we get there.
Even if we don’t really know where ‘there’ is. But life is a journey after all.
The Future Tense is streaming on Mubi from August 23.