What More Lessons Are There From Movies About Pets?
by Erika Lagunzad, August 16, 2019 5:07pm
Art by Dani Elevazo
If you've grown up watching Hachiko, Marley and Me, Paulie, or Babe (yes, the talking pig), you would know how any movie starring a pet on its poster is bound to make you shed tears. The Art of Racing in The Rain is no different, except it has another dog to add to our roster of "pets we wish we owned." At some point, anyone who's ever owned a pet has questioned what goes into the minds of these creatures. And this is what movies about pets like The Art of Racing in the Rain is for.
New Dog, Old Tricks
The best thing about a story narrated by a dog? Any plain plotline becomes more emotional than it should be.
The hour and a half movie tells an emotional family drama from a dog's point of view. We ride with the Swift family going through rough times—joys, loss, wins, and legal battles, all in the eyes (and ears and nose) of Enzo, the dog. Voiced by Kevin Costner, Enzo is no doubt a good boy, and a smart, philosophical one at that.
The story is based on Garth Stein's bestselling novel of the same title. Enzo's narrations and nuggets of wisdom, to which the film is anchored on, often comes off as too poetic—one that's a better fit for the printed page.
Enzo is a golden retriever who is adopted by race car driver Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia), and immediately has become Denny's constant. Enzo as a pup accompanies him to his races, and as a full-grown dog, is with Denny through life's twists and turns.
Things start to take a swerve when Eve (Amanda Seyfried) enters their lives. Denny and Eve soon get married and have a daughter, and their lives are set into a picture-perfect portrait—even if Denny's race car racing career isn't. Things take a sharp drift when Eve dies from cancer, and since then, it has been a custody battle for Denny's daughter with his in-laws (Martin Donovan and Kathy Baker).
The Art of Racing in The Rain may be formulaic (dogs+drama+death=tears) as far as pet-centered films go. It squeezes all types of love—marital, parental, friendship, and passion—in a single film. Everything is just sappier, more sentimental when seen through a dog's point of view. Predictable and cliche, The Art of Racing in the Rain isn't a waste of time; it has its heart in the right place even if the movie title isn't. (There just wasn't enough race, nor rain).
What More is There, Really?
As cliche as lessons go with how these films make us realize dogs’ capacities to love are boundless. As expected, it uses racing analogies and metaphors to explain life's challenges. Often, they show more humanity than most humans in its films (or real life) do. And it leaves us to question, what more do these pet-centered films have to prove? The Art of Racing in the Rain perhaps could add to that.
More than just proving how dogs are often more humans than humans in terms of love, support, and companionship, the film conveys the idea that animals have more connection to spirituality and matters of the soul than humans do. And if we pay more attention to them, our pets' true gifts are showing us how to be more spiritual.
Enzo, thanks to a television documentary on Mongolian tribal beliefs, believes in life after death. And he longs to reincarnate as a human being because it makes it easier for him to speak and convey his message. Pets are instinctually psychic, and often see "energies" around people. This was portrayed when Enzo can sense "decay" in Eve, and death just hits differently when it's seen through a dog's point of view. Enzo understands the human condition and conveys how the techniques needed on the race track can also be applied to successfully navigate his path—to help his master deal with loss, or loneliness, and help him experience love and joy.
Not everyone finds the wonders of the universe exhibited in animals. And being able to execute that in poetic narration (not to mention, in a dog's perspective) is the saving grace to The Art of Racing in the Rain.
Not A Lot of Surprises, But A Lot of Tears
The main point of these animal movies (aside from making you want to hug your pet more or convince you to get one) is they prove how they can be more human than humans. More than metaphors on the race track that is life, the title may have meant racing your tears with everyone else in the theater.
Underwhelming and cliche its plot may be, to give the movie a low rating sounds fair but also cruel. If any pet movie doesn't have you leaving with tears is a "failure”, and The Art of Racing in the Rain—safe to say—has earned its place in movies to watch to convince anyone to own a pet (if you haven't yet). And in that, the movie has fulfilled its service.
Movies about pets may forever be a cliche, and that could also mean they are forever heartwarming (and more often than not, tear-jerking).