Dir. Amy Finkel
“God is love — backwards it’s dog.”
—from Nimo and Fred’s epitaph, as seen in Gates of Heaven
I’m not sure what that means. I’ve re-read the phrase dozens of times, and this is the best I can come up with: in the eyes of Nimo and Fred’s owners, a dog is synonymous with the concepts of God or love — or both. The text, which transcribes the obsessive devotion that many pet “parents” have for their “children,” is nonetheless manifested in a highly illogical way. Furever is a documentary that explores the remarkable love we have for our pets, and the outlandish, sometimes illogical ways in which we seek to memorialize them once they have died.
The opening scene introduces a cat owner whose unique grieving process led him to preserve his cat’s final food, fur, and feces in sandwich bags. This sort of devotion isn’t out of the ordinary, and the rest of the film unfolds with similar vignettes; portraits of either like-minded pet owners or those who work in the pet memorial industry. Director Amy Finkel speaks to taxidermists and pet cemetery owners, but the real meat of the film comes from an interest in the bizarre, uncanny methods available to capitalize on grieving pet parents. Apart from mummification and cloning, other companies mentioned or depicted include those that offer eccentric uses for cremated ashes, including processing them into diamonds, using them to create artificial reefs, pressing them into vinyl recordings of your pet’s voice, or mixing them with gunpowder as ammunition.
Finkel establishes and maintains a respectful tone, treating her subjects with kindness and sympathy throughout. However, the film’s preoccupation with the more irrational options rings of sensationalism, especially given that the absurdity increases as the film progresses (the segments on mummification and cloning are at the end, long after the ones on taxidermy and freeze-drying). While this sort of structure is logical, with the stakes raised and intensified as the film develops, ending the film with a man who spent $100,000 to clone his dog seems to run counterpoint to the spirit of the film, which seemed focused on emphasizing the sensibility of these owners’ dedication to their pets.
Although humans are unreliable and untrustworthy, pets are different. They can offer the companionship, love, and affection we desire without the shortcomings of humans. Furever does a fine job prescribing and reinforcing these ideas, until the last third of the film. These final segments cover cloning, mummification, and “nudicles,” whereby your pet can have fake testicles inserted following the spaying and neutering procedure to maintain the appearance of having balls — all selfish acts on the part of the owner. (It is not lost on me that the grieving process is inherently selfish, therefore everything depicted in the film is selfish on the owners’ part.) But these actions end up proving that not only will humans fail to treat each other with dignity and compassion, but they’ll fail their adored pets as well. These procedures aren’t misunderstood devices for grief and remembrance, but instead unhealthy obsessions for people with too much money. Furever wants to be the doc that sides with these eccentric people while it tells their sides of the story. But in the end, it just bites off more than it can chew.