What is the purpose of life…or at least a dog’s life?

What is the purpose of life…or at least a dog’s life?

Review: A Dog’s Purpose 

(PG) Britt Robertson, Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid

The realization that A Dog’s Purpose is not going to be a typical journey into the life of puppies begins with the opening question from the voice over by Josh Gadd (Beauty and the Beast). As his spirit seems to be floating in the divine canine spirit world, he asks the question, “What is the meaning of life?” Not your typical introduction to delightful dogs throughout history, but the purpose of dogs is at the heart of the title and the film.

The spirit of this dog travels through time and impacts the lives of his owners at different places in history. Whether he is in the form of  golden retriever or a Welsh Corgi or a German Shepard, he continues to ask the existential questions of life’s meaning and purpose. Is it to have fun, is it to save his human or is it merely to eat, drink and play fetch?

As he travels through this canine circle of life, the Montgomery family seems to remain a constant in his memories. As a child, Ethan (Bryce Gheisar, KJ Apa, Dennis Quaid ) and his mother save the young pup from death and take him into their home. As Bailey the retriever, he provides a dog’s perspective of living in the lives of humans. He watches them go through the highs and lows of their lives and tries to come to terms with his role.

As he comes to the end of each dog life, he continues to come back to his life with the Montgomerys and this formative stage in his development.  This existential tug on the old leather football, eventually draws him back to his original owner and the subsequent circle is completed with the answer to the deep query of a dog’s real purpose.

As family-friendly entertainment, director Lasse Hallström (A Hundred-Foot Journey) has been given all of the necessary elements, but delivers a film that is reminiscent of chasing your tale. It contains cute dogs, endearing family situations and a message with a deeper meaning than the typical Dreamworks animated production. At first it presents as a good choice for families with minimal foul language and the relatable family situations. The misstep comes with trying to deliver on the reincarnation element.

Using this as a vehicle for a film targeted at children backfires with each dog’s life cycle which eventually causes a high level of emotional fatigue. Not only does it take an emotive toll on the audience, but having to watch each dog going through the cycle of life with each family makes the story-line become disjointed. What is supposed to connect each vignette becomes a mental gear crunch that fails to allow the film to get to its ultimate destination.

A Dog’s Purpose is a failed attempt in the ‘less is more’ concept. Hallstrom tries to do too much with this film and it eventually falls in on itself. It promises a safe option for families, but delivers a spiritual mess that will cause more nightmares for young children than smiles and giggles. This is a cinematic experience that equates with a dog rolling around in manure, inexplicable and leaves an unappealing fragrance that follows you around throughout the day.

Looking Deeper 

What does the Bible say about reincarnation?

Hebrews 9:27 – And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment

After watching A Dog’s Purpose, it is not too hard to jump from dogs to people on the topic of reincarnation. Interestingly, a recent survey stated that 25% of American Christians believe in reincarnation, even though it contradicts the teachings of the Bible.

What we can know from the teachings of the Bible and most theological textbooks is that people is the special creation of God, created in God’s image with both a material body and an immaterial soul and spirit. He is presented as distinct and unique from all other creatures—angels and the animal kingdom alike. Which means after death, we do not return as another human, an animal or even a cute puppy.

The lesson does not stop there. While a person’s body is mortal, at death it decays and returns to dust, our souls and spirits continue on either in a place of torments for those who reject Christ or in paradise (heaven) in God’s presence for those who have trusted in the Saviour.(1)


Where could I go to find out more about world religions? 

Check out this great review of Rodney Stark’s book, Discovering God, by the Centre of Christianity’s Simon Smart


Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger.



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