‘Furever’, Amy Finkel’s new documentary about post-mortem pet preservation, is a focused look at an obscure topic. Yet the film succeeds as more than a curiosity because it hits on emotions and fears that people can identify with. We all dread the deaths of loved ones. And when they’re gone, it’s hard to say goodbye.
I would suggest not going into the film hoping to laugh at a bunch of wackos and their crazy behavior; that’s not what ‘Furever’ is about. Instead, the film elicits enormous empathy for its human subjects and, in a non-judgmental way, explores what’s driving them. There are undeniably some eccentric interviewees–such as a woman who tattooed her cat’s ashes into her arm. And there are morbidly funny moments–for instance, a dog reacting fearfully to its owner’s other dog, this one taxidermied. But from the very first scene, when a man brimming with grief discusses the devastation he felt after his cat of many years died, it’s hard not to feel for those interviewed.
“He’s not the same as he was, but it’s a hundred times better than not having him,” says another pet owner of Willow, his deceased, taxidermied dog. Whether or not you would taxidermy your own dog, the sentiment is a reaction to something that most pet owners – and most people – feel at some point in their lives. When loved ones die, we want to hold on to them somehow. And that resonance is the most impressive thing about ‘Furever’. Despite its quirky topic, the film gets at broader themes about bereavement and the difficulty of letting go.
Also impressive is the film’s balance. As a counterpoint, Ms. Finkel interviews those critical of the pet preservation industry. One person argues, for instance, that such businesses are coldly taking advantage of people’s grief. It would have been easy to side with either faction, but Ms. Finkel manages to present both sides in a non judgmental way.
Unfortunately, ‘Furever’ feels overstuffed. (Okay, at least one pun was inevitable.) By the time the film hits the sixty-minute mark, it has already presented the different perspectives on the issue of pet preservation, as well as the gamut of emotions involved. Yet the documentary continues, presenting more interviews and more versions of preservation without expanding on specifics. Admittedly, some of what’s covered near the film’s conclusion — such as a religious organization interested in pet mummification and a company that specializes in cloning — is pretty “out there”. But that does not stop the film from dragging for the final quarter of its eighty-minute runtime.
‘Furever’ may have some flaws. But it has taken what could have been a nasty look at eccentric people – or a critical look at the people who criticize them – and instead presents a resonant exploration of grief and the desire to hold on.
Buy Tickets for ‘Furever’ at the 2013 Brooklyn Film Festival on June 8, 2013 @ Windmill Studios NYC – HERE
– David Teich