EIFF REVIEW: Furry friends forever in Furever

Furever GigCity Edmonton EIFFThe only thing missing in Furever is a visit to another country whose citizens aren’t so privileged, maybe one that doesn’t spend $52 billion a year on cats and dogs. In some places, people think we’re crazy for pampering what’s for dinner.

It’s strangely ironic that the only place in the world you can get your dog cloned is Korea. According to this disturbing and sometimes disgusting documentary about Americans’ obsession with their pets, it costs $100,000 and represents the pinnacle of how you can immortalize your dearly departed pet – by having it come “back to life.” You could also get it stuffed and keep it on your lap, as one women in the film does.

“The only thing that bothers me,” she says, “Is how much it bothers people.”

Furever GigCity Edmonton EIFFDirector and writer Amy Finkel does a fine job arousing empathy for people whose behaviour might get them branded as wackos. Most of them know full well that it’s weird to save your cat’s last poops, as the tearful man in the opening segment did. You can also have your pet’s ashes rendered into a diamond, in tattoo ink or in a firework. Since animals don’t enjoy human rights – not yet, anyway – and are only worth what it costs to replace them, you can pretty much do what you want with your animal remains.

The grief is real. Unlike in other places where human mortality is closer, the loss of a pet is often an American’s first experience with death, and for many it is as traumatic as the loss of a human loved one. It is a cruel mockery on our own mortality that they only live about 15 years. A couple of subjects admit they took their deaths of their pets harder than the deaths of their own parents. Many of the most devoted pet owners don’t have kids.

We are told there’s been a boom in the pet bereavement industry as entrepreneurs try to cash in – selling everything from pet tombstones to cat hair jewelry to bone sculptures. We’re also treated to all the gory details of the art of taxidermy and mummification. PETA members might want to look away at this point. Cloning is an especially thorny issue, as it requires a surrogate mother and in the end does not actually recreate the original animal at all.

A number of experts weigh in to give this issue some perspective. There are interviews with “Pet Grief Counsellor,” who note that few employers are going to give you a day off if you had to put your cat down. Another says it can’t be healthy to prolong your grief. “These people can’t let go,” she says. A historian offers examples of macabre death rituals from the past, both human and animal. And here’s an unlikely subject for a documentary about animals – a Harvard professor of religion. On the common question from people on whether they will be reunited with their dearly departed pets in the afterlife, the answer from a Judeo-Christian perspective is an emphatic NO, says the professor, “Because animals don’t have immortal souls.”

The hell they don’t. Just ask a modern pet owner.

Furever screens at the Edmonton International Film Festival Saturday, Oct. 5 at 10:30 am.