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Film Fatale
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According to Kotek, this trend might not be so new. Recall, for example, 1939’s Of Mice and Men, 1954’s Rear Window and even the seminal Old Yeller (1957). “I think it’s an old adage. When a protagonist in a film has a dog, more often than not, the dog will die,” he says. The difference, as Kotek explains it, might not be what happens, but how it happens.“ Movies have become more realistic,” he says. Debruge concurs, pointing out an across-the-board trend toward not turning the camera away from the gore of reality. “It becomes this symbol, and everything that goes forward is in tune with that unflinching style,” he says.

Lipman also agrees with the cinema verité theory. “Rather than there being an overall shift in movies toward depicting cruelty or violence to animals, what happens is you have a certain group of filmmakers … [who] want to depict realism— they want to depict what they would see as actual human emotions as opposed to clichéd human emotions.”

Regardless of whether we dog lovers are just hypersensitive or that the movement toward realism simply challenges us more, it doesn’t appear that the situation is going to change any time soon. “The fact that it’s happening means that there’s not been enough of a vocal reaction on the part of audiences to discourage it,” Debruge says.

So audiences beware: If you see a dog in a preview, you might very well be getting the bad with the good if you see the film. As for me, I’ll still be going to the movies—I’ll probably just start carrying more tissues.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 53: Mar/Apr 2009
Heather Huntington is an LA movie reviewer and an aspiring screenwriter.

Image: Katherine Streeter

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