I was left forever scarred on an otherwise uneventful day in the early 90s. Our science teacher had just told us about space exploration and a little Russian mutt, Laika.
In fiction or in factual realms, there’s nothing more sentimental than the death of a dog.
A Dog’s purpose, Lasse Hallström’s third outing with dogs, plays on the same emotion. Not once, not twice but four times over! Despite having everything the family movie template calls for this maudlin story doesn’t quite take off with the Frisbee like say, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.
Based upon the bestseller of the same name, A Dog’s Purpose, is told from the perspective of Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad), a dog who is reborn five times over to discover his purpose. However, the one life he seems to be hung up on is the one with a boy named Ethan who lovingly calls him ‘Bailey, Bailey, Bailey, Bailey, Bailey’ as they roam in pristine countryside.
The cruel hands of fate (in our case, of course the screenwriter) lead us from one dog death to the other. But Bailey keeps coming back, reborn repeatedly into different bodies and genders, retaining his consciousness and memories from past lives. And it is through this reincarnation cycle that Bailey encounters many humans, some good, some grey and some downright bad as he realizes his true calling.
The movie certainly has its moments especially when Bailey turns a tad philosophic, consider this:
Isn’t this the way of things, with life as with love, we move on? One moment we have held close all that runs deep in-breath and blood and the next upon dissection — by death or other devices, we are pottering about our errands as usual.
Dogs are different.
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They don’t know this concept of moving on. Think of Hachiko, what made him wait for close to a decade? Till death. Our concept of practicality may steer as far as it can but deep down isn’t this the idea of love we look out for in fiction?
Meanwhile, the dogs keep on dying. Before we are done grieving for one, the movie takes us the right to another puppy and another death. The death of the third dog, in particular, a police dog named Ellie, who falls fatally to a bullet shot as she valiantly saves her owner’s life, leaves you looking for tissue papers.
Over half a century and nearly as many incarnations, Bailey’s learns what he calls a dog’s purpose:
One of the very first sights that greet you at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport is the ‘Welcome to my hometown‘ photo exhibition. Lively portraits of Ingmar Bergman, Björn Borg, Alfred Noble and other distinguished Swedes welcoming you to Sweden. Keep walking and you’d come across the black and white image of Lasse Hallström, the director of ABBA videos, Cider House Rules, and My Life as a dog. He may have stumbled with A Dog’s Purpose but I hope he makes a dog movie again and like at the airport wall, stays perched atop the dog directors of Hollywood.
For now, perhaps the best that this movie does is to provide parents an idea to comfort children traumatized by the death of pets in life or in movies, “See, Bailey didn’t die. Dogs never die. They are reborn, like other dogs, and they live happily ever after with their humans.”