Friday, October 10, 2014

My Life as a Dog

My Life as a Dog (aka "Mitt Liv Som Hund") (Lasse Hallström, 1985) Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius) is having a tough time being a kid (as they all do, until they learn they're a grown-up). Curious, precocious (and, as they say in Airplane!, has a severe drinking problem), he's surrounded by adults who know more than he does, but seem to not know how to enjoy it. His older brother is a bullying creep, his Mom (Anki Lidén) has TB and can't handle her two kids. Dad's half a world away, absent. All he can do is go through life with his dog, Sickan, and his schoolmates. 

Life is routine enough to control (barely) but once Mom gets sent off to a sanatorium, he gets shipped off to his Uncles. One's officious and no fun at all. The other works in a glass factory amongst a collection of misfits. Much more fun. Among the glaziers, there's his Uncle perpetually building or repairing, the grandfather who likes to be read to from lingerie catalogs, the acrobat who's a little crazy, the sculptor who specializes in erotic glass (which the foreman habitually shatters), and the plant hotty, who everyone has designs on.
Then, there are the kids, especially Saga (Melinda Kinnaman), a tomboy, who's trying to pass, and takes out her frustrations by boxing.  For Ingemar, it's a virtual smorgasbord of curiosities and mysteries, even as he OCD's his way through life, pin balling from one misadventure to another, trying to fir in and missing the most important things.

Like Fate.
He's young enough to think "out of sight/out of mind"—Sickan's in a kennel, Mom's in the hospital. Nothing changes. He rolls with the punches, and he'll hook up with the missing later. Life is the day-to-day. The future there's always time for. When he thinks—over a book, or on the odd story that's stuck, burr-like, in his brain, like the first pooch in space, Laika, who went on a one way trip—it's over the backdrop of a star-filled sky, visible but unreachable, and the visual representation of an uncaring Universe—beautiful, cold and beyond comprehension.

But his most important aspect, that informs all of us, is he doesn't know what he doesn't know, and slowly, if unsurely, he's growing, becoming more aware, and starting to displace the empty spaces in his knowledge with things he didn't know he needed to know.

And the title is apt. He is living a dog's life—kept, with the advantage of being cared for, but never in control, always at the mercy of the world and its random charities and acts of kindness. But he's also a victim of its constant indifference. In the process of making our way across the river of life, we are buoyed by the rocks beneath our feet, occasionally losing our footing, attempting to stand straight and not go under. We learn our way, negotiate our path and find our place.
My Life as a Dog is a fine portrait of a child's experience, and everybody's.  It ends with a sense of becoming and is Hallström 's best display of life's messy, unruly experience. Even though he's gone further in his ambitions, taken more risks, this is his most well thought out, complete and realized film on the complexities of the shared experience he has been reaching for his entire career.

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