A Dog’s Purpose is a funny and accessible take on one of life’s biggest issues – the meaning of our existence. According to the film, when a dog enters this world it is full of questions, from ‘What is the point of life?’ to ‘Why does food taste so much better straight from the bin?’
We first meet ‘Bailey’ (brilliantly voiced by Josh Gad) when he is just a pup, and is rescued him from a hot car by a young boy called Ethan (Bryce Gheisar / Dennis Quaid). Together, they journey through many of life’s ups and downs. Although they both have different experiences, they are always there for each other when most needed.
But dogs do not live as long as humans, and soon it is time to part. In the film, ‘Bailey’ lives through multiple reincarnations and, in each one, the big question rears its head: ‘What is the point of this life?’ With each new incarnation he explores another purpose. From the indulgence of Hedonism to the darkness of Nihilism, with some virtue ethics in between, ‘Bailey’ journeys from pleasure to hopelessness, with self-sacrifice seemingly a job requirement.
But to what conclusion does ‘Bailey’ come? What does he discover is the most important lesson to learn? Is there actually an answer to the question ‘What is the point of life’? With each new birth he learns new answers, and so do his owners – some good, some bad. Although we may question the fundamental assumption of reincarnation, the way that the film uses it as a device enables us to identify with the characters and to explore deep questions, in a simple and effective way.
This truly is a family film that has us laughing and crying as we think about the meaning of our own lives.
Carol Pollard is co-founder of EthosEducation.org and EthosMedia.org which provide free downloadable resources to help school pupils and the general public to explore spiritual, moral, social and cultural issues through the latest films.
This article was first published in Families First magazine.