For Reel

Heart of a Dog (2015)
January 31, 2016, 11:29 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Laurie Anderson
4.5 Stars
Heart of a DogLaurie Anderson quotes Kierkegaard in a telling moment of Heart of a Dog: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” This sentiment is evoked in a discussion of the post-9/11 surveillance state, where the NSA can attempt to reconstruct an individual’s life as a means of proving them guilty of a crime. Just as significantly, Kierkegaard’s quote serves as Anderson’s statement of purpose, using her drifting, free-associative method of filmmaking as a means of retracing her own memories in an attempt to reconcile with death–her dog’s, her mother’s, her husband’s, and ultimately, inevitably, her own. Complicating the notion of understanding life backwards is Anderson’s haunting remark that the creepiest thing about stories is that each time you tell them (therefore adding embellishments and leaving out details that aren’t immediately relevant to you), you forget them. If Heart of a Dog deals with the weightiest of material, it does so in an accessible way, with Anderson’s warm vocal tones and the dreamy imagery reminding one of a guided meditation. As many great films do, it provides a catalyst for self-reflection, its hazy descriptions of memory encouraging the viewer to retreat into their own heads. The great thing about Anderson as a storyteller is that she is at once both humorous and profound–in one instance, she recalls how she taught her dog Lolabelle to play the piano, and the resulting experimental Christmas album was “pretty good.” The absurdity and inherent humor of the situation does not outweigh the more spiritual concerns (can we understand that a dog can communicate through musical expression?), and Anderson’s wry delivery places no judgment on any potential viewer response.

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