Monday, 15 June 2009


“The more I see of man, the more I like dogs.” - Mme. de Staël

We saw a beautiful and well-produced film at the weekend, which I can recommend without reservation if you, like me, are a dog lover. It is Jay Russell’s 2000 film “My Dog Skip”, based on Willie Morris’ book. This is an unassuming film that is honest, down-to-earth and deals with everyday situations, feelings and a believable, moving plot. Part of its charm is in its no-gimmicks, gentle exposition, and the exploration of a serious topic – war and how it affects everyone, not just the soldiers on the frontline, but also the families back home.

The plot revolves around a family of three, Jack, Ellen, and Willie Morris during the summer of 1942. Jack (Kevin Bacon) is the heartbroken father who lost a leg in war some years ago. Ellen (Diane Lane) is the ever-resourceful housewife working much harder than even some men do. Willie (Frankie Muniz) is their ten-year-old son. He has no friends, is bad at sports and teased at school. A mechanic named Dink (Luke Wilson) is the only person who befriends him, but even he is called up by the army and Willie is left all alone. 

Ellen (against her husband’s wishes) buys Willie a puppy for his birthday. Although Jack opposes the gift because he thinks Willie is too young to look after a dog, Ellen finally wins and Willie gets to keep “Skip”, as the puppy is named. We follow the special relationship that develops between the boy and the dog, and as Willie and his family get involved in the war brewing in the background, he grows and learns about life and death.

The film is a funny, touching, heartfelt coming-of-age story. It’s a wonderful memoir of another time and yet the story of the little boy and his dog is a timeless one. The dark part of the story, of course, comes from the war that’s waging outside the confines of Yazoo and small town America. Dink returns from the war, not as a hero but in disgrace as he went AWOL. Willie will have to cope with the demolition of his former hero, as well as learning about his relationship with his father. Dink doesn’t show up at Willie’s first baseball game, and the disappointed Willie takes it out on Skip, who runs away. The dog’s disappearance and subsequent recovery teach Willie the strength of forgiveness, and give Dink a chance to embrace the power of redemption. Ultimately, it is a dog’s love that teaches Willie Morris lifelong lessons of the human spirit.

This is a movie to watch and enjoy. No special effects, no shoot them up, no big production, but warm and human and full of the every day feelings and emotions we all lived through as children. Skip is the catalyst for Willie’s growth and incipient understanding of himself and the world.

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