Movie

Controversy transports ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ into irrelevance

This weekend the film “A Dog’s Purpose” was released, and by all accounts, drastically underperformed. The film had everything it needed to succeed: family elements, an effective marketing campaign and a subject matter anyone can attach themselves to.

One small problem, though: As heartwarming as the film may or may not be, its production appeared to be quite the hostile environment for our furry friends. A few weeks ago, TMZ leaked footage of a clearly petrified dog being forced into choppy water, despite demonstrating every objection to the stunt. Naturally, the internet’s pitchforks came out, and now “A Dog’s Purpose” is suffering with low box office receipts and a stronghold from PETA. In the long run, though, this controversy only expedites the inevitable: this film being forgotten.

In the past, I have taken a strong position against boycotting films due to the morals of their authors. I would feel no guilt buying a ticket to “The Birth of A Nation,” despite director and star Nate Parker being accused of rape at Penn State, though he was eventually acquitted. I could muster up the ability to buy a ticket to “Hacksaw Ridge,” despite some of the truly terrible comments Mel Gibson has stated. When all’s said and done, though, I feel the situation regarding this movie is actually a little different.

While Nate Parker’s actions are far, far worse than the idea of making a dog swim in a wave pool, his actions happened years ago and were not remotely within the context of his film. The video footage that is outraging millions of Americans, though, happened on the set of “A Dog’s Purpose,” so by purchasing a ticket to this movie, you are helping to finance that specific treatment of animals. If this movie is a smash hit, there will inevitably be a direct to home video sequel, and the lack of backlash will likely mean similar treatment of animals on set. Ultimately though, this whole argument is moot, as this film would have never been a smash hit.

I love dog movies just as much as the next person, but if we look at the history of this genre, there has never been a sustaining classic. Yes, “Lassie” is talked about with nostalgia, but it’s never really revisited. “Marley and Me” hit the zeitgeist hard when it came out, but have we ever spoken about it since? “A Dog’s Purpose” is a film that is being released in the last week of January, a historical dead zone in the yearly release schedule. This is the time of the year where movies are released that are essentially just fine, as people aren’t really flocking to the theaters right now, and if they are, they’re probably trying to see an Oscar film. Naturally there are exceptions, like “Split,” but on the whole, this trend still exists.

Additionally, this film is the emotional equivalent of a “Saw” movie — pulling out your heart, putting it back and then just ripping it out again with the reincarnation of dogs. Films this over the top and corny never really last. The book “A Dog’s Purpose” is sold at airports all over America, and within three months of this film hitting home video, it will be on the $5 rack at Target. Ultimately, I believe you should see a film if the story speaks to you. Yes, there are often moral gray points, and they’re probably even grayer with this film. The truth is, however, that this controversy only slightly hurt the film’s performance.

Instead of “A Dog’s Purpose” being referred to as “that dog movie,” it’s simply “that dog movie with the upsetting video tape.” See it, don’t see it — it doesn’t matter. Society will have moved on in no time.

Erik Benjamin is a sophomore television, radio and film major. His column appears weekly in Pulp. You can email him at ebenjami@syr.edu or follow him @embenjamin14 on Twitter.

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