I love movies. In a world where there’s all too much to be stressed out about, and too much work to be done at any given time, movies offer a wonderful escape. Besides, I just plain enjoy watching a great film. However! If there’s a dog in the movie—it doesn’t need to be in bad shape, or stray, or sick, mind you, just a happy, friendly family dog—I spend the entire film worrying about whether something is going to happen to the dog. If it’s a suspense film, that goes double.
My husband and I are a Netflix-loving couple. This past Saturday night, we settled in to watch our latest choice, Wind River. The trailers we’d seen showed a gritty drama with good acting and an intriguing story. We were both looking forward to it. After a brief, dreamy opening montage featuring a young woman running across a lake as credits rolled, a stark opening scene appeared: three beautiful coyotes stood at a distance from a herd of cattle. A man with a rifle crouched in the bushes. Before I could say, “Oh, crap,” the man had shot one of the coyotes. There was then an immediate closeup looking down upon the bloody carcass. I can’t tell you whether the coyote was dead or still breathing, because after the first split second of seeing it, I couldn’t watch. I also can’t tell you the rest of what happens in the film, because we turned it off.
Movies have ratings for a reason. Parents don’t want their kids exposed to sexual or violent content. While PG-13 cautions parents in a general way that some material may not be suitable for children, we are also now seeing more specific warnings regarding things like brief nudity, foul language, mild violence, and so on. So why not have a warning about violence to animals? Surely animal lovers make up a large enough segment of the population to warrant it, and yet there seems to be no concern whatsoever about violence toward animals in films. It’s a sad reflection on our society.
As an animal lover, a warning would be appreciated and would have saved me from seeing many things I can never un-see. There was the film Fear, where teenagers invade a home and torture the family. Hmm. Whatever happened to the dog, who went missing early on? Wait! He’s coming back in through the dog door! Oh, sorry, that was just his head. Yes, his head. WTF? Sorry, I understand the concept of shock value, but what would happen if that level of graphic violence were applied to a kid? Would a scene featuring a headless child have ever make the final cut? Then there are the times nothing bad has happened yet but you just know it’s bound to, like in the film Signs—the one about crop circles and unseen, possibly alien monsters. I was all but yelling at the screen as the family left their German Shepherd tied out in the field as they took cover indoors. And you just knew in Secret Window, where Johnny Depp was a writer living alone in a remote cabin, that nothing good was going to happen to his dog—and you were right. Did I spoil some of the suspense for you? You’re welcome. Now you can avoid those films entirely.
Look, I understand the need for dramatic tension in films. It’s usually a good thing. I even understand the need for bad things to happen to good dogs in a storyline—if it’s really called for in the overall plot and serves a purpose. And I realize that not everyone is as sensitive about violence towards animals as I am, and as many others are. Still, it would hurt no one and would help many of us to have some sort of rating to warn us, so that we could at least make an informed choice before deciding where to spend our movie dollars.