I am a dog owner. One of the scenarios that I can ultimately envision making me cry is my dog (Holly) dying (Tear Blog post forthcoming when she pops her dog-clogs: ETA 2015). To try and approximate this I decided I would watch two recent films, depicting true stories, about dogs dying to see if I can choke myself up, in psychological anticipation of the main event.
People always say: “Oh, there will never be another dog like X,” but then you see another dog, of the same breed, at the park and it seems to essentially possess exactly the same mannerisms and characteristics of your dog. Dogs are all much of a muchness really, too one-note, trying to pass bipolarity off as loyalty. Cats will always be the superior pet, because at least they have the dignity to continually acknowledge that we are each alone in the Universe. Dogs delusionally pretend this isn’t the case for their whole lives, before slinking off to die on their own under a porch at the last minute; undermining their species-wide commitment to loyalty and companionship when it matters most.
Anyway: Marley & Me. It’s the swinging 90’s, Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson play a couple of journalists. Aniston’s character is purportedly a Middle East specialist and is one of the foremost US experts on Gaddaffi (though having established this early on, she does not venture forth any comment about the Middle East for the rest of the film’s duration). They have recently got married and Aniston keeps dropping hints that she wants to force a new human life out from between her sun-kissed vaginal flaps.
Wilson’s ‘playa’ best friend advises him to get a dog to appease Aniston’s biological clock for a few years. The dog is attributed its name by Wilson on the drive back home, as a Bob Marley song is playing on the radio. He asks the dog if he would be interested in being named Bob or Robert, the dog is very responsive to the name Marley. So it is settled.
The film ostensibly takes place in the 90’s, but since this is bland teal and orange filmmaking 101 the fashions and décor all conform to present day furniture catalogue standards. The only concession to its ‘historical’ setting is the inclusion of Wilson’s archaic looking PC. I lived through the nineties, and people did not have that level of restrained taste about clothing and décor:
The main problem with Marley & Me is that Marley is a twat. He scarcely does anything affectionate for the whole film. Repeatedly, Wilson and Aniston go out somewhere, they come back and Marley has nihilistically destroyed the house yet again (you don’t actually see him do it most times; they just come back to the dog sat chilling out, panting amongst the debris like he’s king dick). Marley only begins to behave like a reasonable creature when it’s discovered that he’s not long for this world. Well Marley, death bed repentances are all well and good, but you reap what you sow in this life.
A very chilling scene in the film involves a montage of Marley harassing the house-sitter whilst Jen and Owen are away in Ireland. As the couple fuck each other beneath pictures of Jesus, Mary and a statue of the pope…
This is intercut with Marley sexually harassing the girl that is meant to be caring for him…
It then dawned on me that the dog had not wanted to be named after that Marley…
The strangest thing of all about Marley & Me is that it is based on a book which was a true account of a couple’s life together. The real life couple are significantly less photogenic than their onscreen proxies…
Even the real life Marley was less handsome than his onscreen counterpart:
There must be something really uncanny about seeing your life rendered back to you in the form of a homogenized piece of cinema designed primarily to be retailed next to supermarket checkouts. I wonder if the real Jenny Grogan thought: “My, Jennifer Aniston really captured what I went through with my miscarriage and subsequent conception of my firstborn.”
Since the characters don’t appear to age (other than the ‘playa’ best friend who gets a distinguished grey sheen to his hair in his final scene) the main marker of time passing is the dog. Different dogs are called in to represent Marley throughout his lifespan. So when he finally reaches death’s door it is actually jarring because the dog is noticeably different to previous iterations of Marley.
So as the family all weep for the loss of their beloved Marley, just off camera the 18 other dogs who played him frolic, carefree and alive.
Hachi: A Dog’s Tale is a relative curiosity which will probably become more well-known once it has reached its true spiritual home: Sunday night TV.
Don’t let the Japanese sounding title worry you, this is an American film starring Richard Gere with scarcely a subtitle in sight. It is a remake of a very old Japanese film and an even older Japanese true story concerning a man whose dog would meet him each day at the train station, the master dies, but the dog continued to wait, hopelessly anticipating his return for years on end.
This film sees that story, transplanted to modern day Everytown, USA. Again, there is a subtle disconnect between the appearance of the real life subject and the onscreen proxy…
…though admittedly less so than in Marley & Me, Hidesaburō Ueno was surprisingly hot.
Gere plays a music lecturer who, on his daily commute, discovers a dog that has apparently been abandoned (perfunctory explanation: it was imported and fell out of a crate).
Various unconvincing circumstances conspire to artificially create drama in the first half. The pound claims that they won’t be able to find a home for this incredibly cute, rare breed of dog. Gere’s wife initially refuses to let the dog stay despite the visible joy it has brought to her husband. Gere carries the dog around in his man-bag for a few days as they try and find out who it belongs to…
Eventually the wife relents and Hachi joins the family.
Each day, the dog escapes from the back garden and runs to meet his master at the train station. One nicely lame aspect of the film is that there is an established community of people that know each other, in and around the train station that help out whenever Hachi gets into scrapes. Included in this cute little gang are Jason Alexander from Seinfeld (playing the curmudgeonly porter of the train station) and Erick Avari, the go-to actor for Middle-Eastern professors, playing against type as a Middle-Eastern hot dog salesman.
One fateful day however, Gere suffers a heart attack whilst he is giving an inspirational lecture about music to a rapt student body. The dog hears the sound of the train and goes to meet his master, as he does every day. For reasons that are beyond the imaginative capacity of a dog, Gere does not arrive. The dog continues to wait, but is picked up by Gere’s family and taken home. He repeatedly escapes so he can go back to the train station to wait. Eventually the family relent and let him do what he wants; the dog then waits for 9 unbroken years.
The finale of the film is actually quite moving, in an irresistibly obvious kind of way. As the dog finds its life fading away, whilst it is still waiting, Gere appears and they hug as they are reunited in the afterlife. Because the film did not have a very large budget this climactic scene occurs at the train station whilst it is snowing. No fancy CGI lights and depictions of a ghostly Gere appearing from beyond the grave. Just a montage of happy times as Gere, greets and hugs the dog one last time.
I actually quite like this film. There is something lovely about how cheap and cheerful it is, made for a fraction of the budget of Marley and Me (costing $16m to M & M’s $60m). It is readily apparent that Gere used his modest star power to get this film made because he liked the story and patently loves animals.
Total sincerity and unabashedly optimistic conceptions of the afterlife are an area of further exploration for The Tear Blog, because they are both good at prickling my dusty ducts.
The film ends with the son of Gere’s daughter talking to his class during show and tell about how Hachi is his hero, because of his loyalty and his faith. If I were in the class though, I’d put my hand up and interrupt the boy and alternatively argue that the dog’s behaviour, though inspiring, is not a healthy moral we can extrapolate to mankind.
Hachi had the opportunity to be that boy’s pet, but he chose to run back to the train station and wait for 9 solitary years for his deceased master. Hachi could have forged a new human relationship with someone his master cared for, but instead chose to monomaniacally obsess over the past, making him a cautionary tale as much as a hero.
For comparison with M & M, adult Hachi was played by three separate dogs and “countless puppies because they kept growing too quick,” according to the director. So instead of waiting the full nine years, the dogs probably broke it down into shifts.
DID THE DOG DEATH DOUBLE BILL MAKE ME CRY?
Neither of the films made me cry, though the finale of Hachi did get me going a little bit because I am a sucker for lame sincerity.
Sadly, I don’t think anyone has made a tearjerking drama about cats. Cats would clearly resent being complicit in such mawkish manipulation. For cat owners seeking a hypothetical Cat Death Double Bill, might I suggest Re-Animator followed by Drag Me To Hell.
MARLEY & ME – TEAR RATING:
HACHI: A DOG’S TALE – TEAR RATING: