Why I’m Not A Dog Person…
No offense to all of you dog-lovers out there, but I’ve never really held much of an affinity for man’s best friend. Not that I hate dogs. In fact, I often enjoy visiting canine-centric friends and playing with their pet. But ultimately, I am always glad to leave at the end of the day and not have a dog begging for my attention as I enjoy the peace and quiet of my own home. Largely for this reason, I was rather dismayed with the prospect of watching Marley & Me with Nikki and her parents. I was just not altogether eager to watch a film that seemed to be lacking in any plot outside of “Watch this funny situation and this couple’s reaction when Marley misbehaves…” It didn’t help that everyone kept telling me it had such a sad ending. Great. The dog is going to get hit by a car or bite a kid by accident and will have to be tearfully put to sleep, or will die trying to save a child from a fire, etc.
(If you haven’t watched the film, you might be wary of reading any further.)
I am glad to share that I was delightfully surprised by the film. You see, contrary to common perception, the movie isn’t about the dog at all. Oh, sure, the dog features very heavily throughout and its antics add comedic effect to the scenes, but there is something much deeper going on here. Basically, you have an anti-movie here. There are no plot twists, no deep traumatic turns, no rising climactic crescendos of action or drama or tragedy. There are no deep-rooted issues or problems that have to be resolved in some melodramatic deus ex machina of fortunate coincidenctal occurences. In fact, the lives of these two people play out very much just like real life (a refreshing change and daring choice for a Hollywood production). That is not to say that nothing happens. They fall in love and get married, they have children and learn how to be parents, they have to adjust to the sacrificial nature of marriage and parenting, they struggle with balancing satisfaction with their jobs and making a living to support their family. It was a slice of life examination of what real life is like for millions of people. Most of us will not experience a high-speed car chase, melodramatic love triangles, or witty one-liners in every conversation we have.
So how did they get away with making a movie in which nothing (by Hollywood’s standards) occurs? By sneakily building the plot around Marley and billing the film as a comedy about pet ownership. But as you watch it all play out, it becomes evident that the dog merely provides the structure to watch the lives of this man and woman play out. They acquire Marley as a puppy, providing an excellent entry point into this newly-married couple, and it ends with Marley’s death of old age. The story that is their life really stretches on before and continues on after Marley. It was really quite well done and actually presented some excellent principles on sacrificing to make your spouse happy and putting them first, as well as glorifying the reality of monogamous marriage and building a family, something far too often neglected or villified in movies.
As for the ending being sad, well I beg to disagree. When you realize that the film is not about Marley so much as it is about this couple, the fact that they have come to this point, that he has realized what he loves about his job, that he is a good father and husband and they have a wonderful home and three well-adjusted and intelligent children, then I fail to see the tragedy at the end. Not to be overly cynical, but the dog is just not going to live until the kids graduate from college. That he died of old age and lived a full life with this family is anything but tragic. Somber maybe but not sad. So I surprisingly would encourage anyone to watch this film. Hollywood proves that they do not always have to produce an overly formulaic and cliched movie. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.