We can only hope that in a few years, a film studies graduate student will write about the curious late 2010s trend of movies exploring the notion of the canine soul and possibly turn up some answers about the appeal of these films, beyond simple affection for man’s best friend. Perhaps, during such troubled times, we need to believe in a higher power that is as steady and accessible as a dog, with their unyielding devotion and searching eyes. As animal lovers, we want to believe there’s something more to the dog-human connection than just food and shelter, and movies from a dog’s point-of-view assert their emotional intelligence and humanity while celebrating their inherent doggishness. While this has been explored with cutesy morbidity in the pup reincarnation series “A Dog’s Purpose” and “A Dog’s Way Home,” “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” directed by Simon Curtis, written by Mark Bomback and adapted from the 2008 novel by Garth Stein, takes an approach that’s far more erudite.
Our furry narrator is Enzo (Kevin Costner), a golden retriever who’s not like other dogs. In his opening monologue, he intones with gravelly gravitas, that “gestures are all I have.” He laments the engineering of his flat tongue, which prevents him from expressing anything more complicated than monosyllabic sounds, and announces he’s lying in “a puddle of my own making.” A believer in Mongolian dog mysticism, Enzo announces that when he comes back as a human, he’s going to remember everything he’s learned as a dog while living with his owner, Denny (Milo Ventimiglia).