Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Year of the Dog

The Year of the Dog (2007; dir. Mike White) is a light, airy film whose thinness is compensated by the talents of the lead actress Molly Shannon. She plays Peggy, a woman in her 30s who works as a secretary in a non-descript office. She listens to her co-workers talk about their relationships, and she feels that she should enter into that world. She has, apparently, never had a “relationship.” She is shy and tends to withdraw at social gatherings rather than to put herself forward. People sometime seek her out to talk, but they do so because she mainly listens and virtually never disagrees or criticizes. She instead devotes herself to her dog, whose death (she believes he was poisoned by a next-door neighbor) foments a crisis. Her attempts to bond with men invariably fail. The man to whom she is most attracted declares that he is not interested when she expresses her interest (he is probably gay). She becomes increasingly unsettled, depressed, and begins collecting dogs, numerous dogs, keeping them shut away from harm in her house. When she attacks her next-door neighbor (John C. Reilly) with a pitchfork, her mental breakdown is complete. She’s institutionalized.

She recovers and returns to work and again begins to feel the pressure to conform, to socialize in the conventional way. Ultimately she decides to pursue her interest in animals, announces to her coworkers that this is what she wants to do, and boards a bus to attend a SPCA to a protest about animal cruelty in another city.

The Year of the Dog wants us to feel good about her decision—she has discovered what makes her happy, she has accepted that she doesn’t need to be like other people to find contentment and satisfaction. The film is a gentle defense of individualism.

I don’t accept its conclusion. Not that I don’t believe in individuals—I do—and not that I am indifferent to cruel treatment of animals—I oppose it. But her rejection of human company, of the social life of people (which can be entered into in any number of ways) strikes me as a surrender.

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