Forget bones, let’s throw them an Oscar

January 16, 2014 7:45 pm

One of the hardest questions to answer: what makes a great actor? Talent, looks, popularity: all of which are important tools in making money as a movie star. However, to be an award worthy thespian, one must be above all believable. Believability is incredibly complex, convincing an audience of a character’s authenticity is a challenge for a person, but imagine trying to do so as a dog.

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I, like all dog lovers, have great respect for the numerous vocations that our canine companions occupy, including acting. Our furry friends capture that one key element of performance – believability. It is astounding how easily dogs are able to capture emotion, their natural emotional honesty allows them to bring the audience to either tears or laughs, without so much as uttering a word. Indeed, one film I find incredibly poignant and heart wrenching is Mark Herman’s “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”, however where this film relies on a well-written plot and a great performance by child actor Asa Butterfield to move the audience, it takes one look in Hachi’s eyes (Lasse Hallstrom’s “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale”) to turn anyone into a sobbing wreck. Such is the believability. 

It is something about a dog’s innate ability to show emotion that prompts the audience to feel a greater feeling of empathy than with the performance of even the most talented of humankind. For instance, Hachi, the tale of a dog, tells the story of how a dog chooses his master and develops a friendship, which lasts both of them a lifetime. Despite the simplicity of this plot, it is an incredibly powerful film with all the emotional potency being generated from the love, loyalty and dependency of the dog. Australian cinema produced an equally powerful film, “Red Dog”, directed by Kriv Stenders, charts the course of the Western Australian legendary dog who roamed from town to town in search of his deceased master. It couples the emotional power of “Hachi” with the typical dry Australian humour, giving the audience tears of joy and sadness.

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So why is it that dogs can have that effect, whilst human actors are often unable to move us? Do we hate each other so much that we are unable to feel sympathy? No, that would be a ludicrous idea, but perhaps the concept of artificial emotion, produced through cinema, is unsatisfactory and we as sentient beings are immune to the emotional manipulation of film. Actors are after all false and every smile and tear shown is artificial, we all know that, perhaps that is why we cannot feel so profoundly for them.

Dogs, however, are not blessed with mankind’s rational mind, they are incapable of mimicking emotion and essentially incapable of acting. Thus, when you look into the eyes of Hachi or Red Dog you see true feelings of happiness and pain. If you look into many of Hollywood’s brightest and best stars all you can observe is dollar signs. Poet Rudyard Kipling asks: “Should we give our hearts for dogs to tear?”

Whilst we may never see a Pug playing Pitt or a Dalmatian cast instead of DiCaprio, I hope more film aficionados will appreciate the ability of dogs to tug at our heart strings.

 

 

 

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