Kyla Giffin | Cowboy Life Editor, Galleria Editor
The film opens with, quite simply, a beginning. Not just the beginning of a life, but the beginning of many lives. Not just the beginning of many lives, but the beginning of a dog’s many lives, and his search for his purpose.
“A Dog’s Purpose” starts with a puppy, whose thoughts are narrated by Josh Gad, whose life is short-lived–he was born a stray, then captured and taken to the pound, where viewers can imply that he was euthanized. As his first life ends, the screen is filled with spots and light, until, once again, there is a red retriever puppy. Held at an outdoor pound, where he lodges in one of the top cages, the young dog escapes from the cage, and crawls under a fence, where two men catch him.
Hoping to sell the puppy, he is driven away by the men, who leave him in the car when they make a stop. However, the windows are rolled up, and the dog begins to suffer from heat exhaustion, until, suddenly, a woman and her son walk by, the latter discovering the puppy, and the former breaking the window in order to save him. This part really resonated with me, as it showed a strong character, and a strong female character at that, who was not afraid to do the right thing.
Next thing you know, the young boy, Ethan, and the dog go home together, the workaholic–who will turn alcoholic–father reluctantly approves, and he gets a name: Bailey.
Viewers follow Bailey as he and the boy grow up together, inventing games and comforting one another in times of sorrow.
As a teenager, Ethan, played by K.J. Apa, has a great girlfriend that he and Bailey met at a carnival, and is a high school football
star, set out to play for Michigan State. But when a jealous teammate named Todd, who bullied Ethan about his alcoholic father, drops a lit firework into Ethan’s house, he injures his leg while saving his mother and Bailey, a heroic move that demonstrated his position as “man of the house,” after his good-for-nothing father was kicked out, but an action that also had a major impact on how he would live much of his life.
Ethan loses his full scholarship to Michigan State and breaks up with his girlfriend. Not long after he leaves home to learn about farming, Bailey grows ill from old age, and, with Ethan at his side, dies a second time. This gave me a feeling of incompletion, as if Bailey were leaving at a time when Ethan needed him most. But that feeling, of course, wouldn’t last.
If the first half of the movie was not heart-wrenching enough, the viewers get to watch as Bailey is reborn, as a female German Shepherd, as a lazy Corgi, and, finally, as a Saint Bernard. All the while, Bailey questions, with new knowledge and experiences from each life, what his purpose is. Is it to have fun? To protect? To love a fellow dog?
As a Saint Bernard, Bailey experiences neglect from his first owners, only to be dropped off in the middle of the road, from which he must find his way to who knows where. But he comes upon a field, all too familiar to him, and taking in all the scents, Bailey finally exclaims in his thoughts: “Horse dog!” Bailey is back at Ethan’s grandparents’ house, where they had gone every summer. The viewers rejoice with Bailey in that golden field he proceeds to leap across.
Running towards the house, Bailey finds the donkey he had befriended and called “horse dog,” and also finds Ethan, all grown up, played by Dennis Quaid. As Bailey slowly enters into his last, but somehow first, life, he manages to reunite Ethan with his first love from all that time ago, and shows Ethan, through the game they had invented, and by his barking when Ethan said “boss dog,” that he was, in fact, Bailey.
This movie pulled on my heart strings, and tear ducts, every step of the way, and it was obvious, by the end, that his purpose, as is anyone’s purpose, really–dog, human, or otherwise–was to be there for someone who needed it. To warm the lonely hearts, and lick the wounds of broken hearts.
But despite the movie’s beautiful message and sea of tears it produced, “A Dog’s Purpose” managed to only receive three point three out of ten stars from IMDb, a 34% on Rotten Tomatoes, and one and a half out of four stars on Rolling Stone. While some give the reason as being that it was too cheesy, or too cliché, the most popular reason is, as said by Austin Warkentin in his IMDb review, a total of nine times, “cruelty to animals.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, TMZ leaked a video from the set of “A Dog’s Purpose,” filmed in 2015, of a dog scared to go into churning water during a take. Its handler tried to keep it from running away, as well as tried lowering it into the water. The video cuts to the dog at the edge, its head going under, and people rushing to help. The dog who performed this scene, named Hercules, was reported to be fine. However, that did not stop people from becoming outraged, nor did it stop the cancelling of the premiere of “A Dog’s Purpose.”
Even the voice of Bailey, Josh Gad, said on Twitter, as reported by the New York Post, that he was “shaken and sad to see any animal put in a situation against its will.” Dennis Quaid, on the other hand, as reported by The Guardian, said “there was no animal abuse,” and that the video had been “edited and manipulated.”
Gavin Polone, the producer of “A Dog’s Purpose,” gave a written statement on the video for The Hollywood Reporter. Polone described his love and dedication towards animals, and the pain it caused him to see this video when it first came out. However, rather than jump to conclusions, Polone recalled upon what he remembered from the filming he had witnessed, and also decided to investigate for himself what had happened. During this time, Polone received a lot of inquiries and harsh words from people, and also saw PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) called for the boycotting of the movie. Polone acknowledged that what was seen in the video should not have happened, and that those from AHA (American Human Association) were, evidently, insufficient in their actions to prevent any wrongdoing.
Polone showed maturity and responsibility upon finding fault within himself for what occurred. However, he also wanted to make it clear that “…there is more to this story that I think should be known.”
Polone speaks of quite a few aspects of the video. First of all, Hercules, the German Shepherd from the video, was reluctant and scared, not because of the water, but because they had wanted to try filming from the other side of the pool, after already filming from the left. After trying to get the dog to go in from the right side, which Polone said should not have happened, as soon as the dog showed fear, the cast and crew once again switched sides, and the dog carried on as normal.
As for Hercules’s head going underwater, it was reportedly for four seconds, and after being taken back up, the dog simply walked it off.
The video from TMZ left out important and contextual moments from the shooting of the film, that would have demonstrated a lack of animal abuse, as well as have ensured the dog’s own safety.
In addition, it was raised to question why, if someone was really concerned about the practices on set, they would hold a video, shot in 2015, and wait until its release in 2017. Ellen DeGeneres, when interviewed by Perez Hilton, spoke about this, saying, that if one was actually worried about an animal’s safety, “Somebody should have said something the next day. Don’t wait until the movie comes out and say, ‘Boycott the whole movie.'”
In spite of the controversy over “A Dog’s Purpose,” the leaked video is not only downright out-of-context and suspiciously vengeful, but truth and evidence shows that there was no forcible or cruel treatment of any animals on the set, making it easy to argue for and defend this film. TMZ has failed to tarnish my ecstatic response to the movie. Its expression of loneliness versus love, and the connection between all living things, dogs and humans alike, is not one to boycott.
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