Summer has finally rolled out all it has to offer us up here in the Midwest: longer days and warmer weather. Exploring our State Parks, going swimming, and spending endless hours at playgrounds and museums is among the many ways we home-educate during this season, because let’s face it, we don’t get out much in Minnesota. When the sun is out, so are we! However, by the end of the day, we want to just collapse and snuggle up to a wholesome, family-friendly film.
Life with Dog is about an older man named Joe Bigler whose wife lost her life in a fatal car accident while riding her bike. Joe wrestles with unforgiveness, guilt, and ultimately anger towards God as he works through the details surrounding her death. He is led to believe there is a conspiracy surrounding her death and that the bank is behind it in a ruthless attempt to lay claim to his property.
All Joe has left to remind him of his wife are the rose bushes in his front yard and the hole in his life. As he nurtures and tends to these plants, he is aquanted with a ragety-looking canine that just won’t leave him alone. The relationship that Joe builds with “Dog”, as he calls him, is one that softens Joe’s heart and changes his outlook on life. The dog is also the key to solving the mystery of his dear wife, Alice’s death and leads Joe to her murderer.
Joe’s daughter is a believer, and the opening scene of the movie features Joe sitting in his musty, dark, unkept living room. His daughter is persistent in knocking on the door, but Joe is reluctant to answer since he is paranoid that realtor’s are hounding him to surrender his beloved property. When his daughter finally intrudes using her own key to his house, father and daughter exchange some real and harsh conversation with one another giving a peek into how much Alice’s death has destroyed their relationship and driven Joe very far from God; his anger, hopelessness, lack of connection to the faith his dear wife and daughter held, and how much of himself was invested in his wife.
Joe often imagines that his wife is still alive and verbally discusses his heart with her throughout the movie. The director did a fantastic job at displaying the dimensions of Joe’s mind with a hazy, golden, heavenly glow when his wife is apparent. The home looks warm, there are fresh trimmed flowers and warm cookies on the table for her husband to enjoy. No one can talk Joe off his conspiracy rages like Alice can. Then reality once again appears and the scene switches to a dark, cool colored feel. Joe’s smile fades, and we feel the pain he feels at the constant remembrance of his deceased beloved.
As the plot progresses, Joe is brought to extreeme points of anger and this anger, without the forgiveness and love that God has to offer, leads him into several debacles that could very well end in murder. I don’t want to give too much of the story line away :).
Joe owns a gun and in several scenes throughout the movie he pulls the gun on several people. This illustrates the intense wrath that he is dealing with inside and how that wrath unchecked, and this unforgiveness he fosters, can and will lead ultimately to murder.
At the end of the movie Joe stands face to face with his wife’s killer. It is a very intense scene and Joe is making threats to shoot and kill this young man. His gun is unloaded showing that he never intended to kill, just to scare him. Forgiveness is given in the final scene and Joe is finally free.
What Did We Think?!?
Overall, the movie is definitely family friendly. We watched it with all six of our children ages 8 & under as well my nieces and nephews who are very young. There is one swear word in the movie that is written out in text on a sign that Joe creates when looking for his lost dog. It is the three letter word for “butt”. Joe also, in discussion with his daughter says something about saying the “f-bomb”. I wish these two things were not in the movie.
I am saddened that the gospel is not once preached in this movie. The overall resounding message is about forgiving yourself and forgiving others, but nothing about Jesus Christ, His death on the cross, His forgiveness of sin that enables us to forgive others, the hope we have in being in Heaven with Him and our loved ones if only we repent and believe in Him for salvation.
There was one scene in particular that was perfectly set up for a drive-home-to-the-heart message, but it just never got there. It was the scene where Joe is sitting in a jail cell discussing things with his wife (in his imagination) and he is explaining to her that he is scared he will never see her again if he “let’s go” of her death. He mentions wanting to be with her, “wherever that is”. There was never any clear hope given to Joe as to whether he would or could see his wife again.
Everyone I watched Life with Dog with had the same feedback:
-The music in the beginning of the film didn’t seem to match the feeling that I would imagine the director was trying to get across. It felt more playful then it did heavy.
– The acting was TOP NOTCH! Really great actors and actresses with hardly any cheesy scenes. You were drawn into the story line from the very beginning!
– The theme of the movie was not very clearly laid out. It almost took watching the movie twice to understand what the movie was trying to communicate as it’s main take away.
– The ending didn’t feel complete. It left the story in an odd resoultion. Thankful the final scene of Joe letting Alice’s ashes go was tacked on the very end to bring some sort of completion, but still felt lacking.
Would We Recommend It?
This isn’t a movie that I would say, “Hey! You gotta see this movie!” or “I really want to watch Life with Dog!“ Not a first, go to pick type of movie.
IF it had a clear gospel message, this movie would be a go-to, favorite of mine for sure!
With that said, it was entertaining and enjoyable. It was clean and had a message of forgiveness. It portayed beautifully and flawlessly what a man who is angry at God would go through and deal with.
It gave our family a number of moments to discuss things that we see in a sinful nature of man and how to minister to people in Joe’s situation.
It’s not evangelical, so using it in this manner would not be effective.