Directed by: Laurie Anderson.
Written by: Laurie Anderson.
One of the best things about Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog is its length – just 75 minutes. That isn’t to say it’s painful and you’ll be thankful to be done with the film is such a relatively short period of time – just an acknowledgement that Anderson found the right length for her film in order for it to have the desired impact. The film is a personal essay film, with Anderson heard in voiceover throughout the film ruminating about life and death – and mainly about loss. The prism she uses to explore these themes is her beloved rat terrier, Lollabelle, who died just a few years ago. The film documents a little bit of Lollabelle’s life, sure, but it’s about more than that – and Anderson takes side trips that seem to be unrelated – about post 9/11 New York, the surveillance state, her complicated relationship with her mother, etc. – that actually do deepen the rest of the movie. Her famous husband, Lou Reed, also died a few years ago is barely glimpsed in one shot of the movie, and his music can be heard of the end credits, before the final credit dedicates the movie to him. She may not talk about Reed at all during the movie, but the film is still very much about him, and his presence can be felt.
In the film, Anderson talks a lot about her life, her dreams, her dog and her beliefs – which tend to be on the New Age-y, or Buddhist, side of things- her naturally calm voice makes these ideas sound pleasant and reassuring. The images she puts on screen are a mixture of home movies, animation, and others – often seemingly shot for the point of view of her small dog, as we are often close to the ground – and looking up at the sky. The images are dreamy, and verge on the pretentious, without quite tripping over the line – which you could say about much of what Anderson has to say as well – especially when she starts bringing in various philosophers and their musings into the proceedings.
By now, you’ve probably figured out if Heart of a Dog is a movie for you, or not – and you’re likely right. Much of your enjoyment of the film will have to do with how much mileage you get out of these sorts of dreamy images, and the musings of Anderson. I admit, that often I don’t have much patience for this type of thing – but Heart of a Dog worked well for me, simply because I don’t Anderson overstays her welcome – and doesn’t beat her message into your skull repeatedly. She finds clear, succinct ways to make her points, and then moves on. The film is quietly touching, with works well with some of the more heady allusions throughout the film.
Heart of a Dog is clearly not a film for everyone – but then again, why should it be? It is a very personal story for Anderson, and yet in her telling, it becomes universal. If you like this sort of thing, than Heart of a Dog is a wonderful example of precisely what it is. If not – then you aren’t going to watch it anyway, are you?