Dir.: Errol Morris
Spine Number: 751
If you decide to watch Errol Morris Gates of Heaven, something I do not recommend, please prepare yourself ahead of time. Prepare yourself to learn more about the internment of animals than you likely care to know. Prepare yourself for the little man fighting a battle they can not win. Also, prepare yourself to a pretty good guitar solo.
Gates of Heaven tells the story of the afterlives of animals in two Californian cities. In the first city you find a wonderful man and his business partners who aimed to give pets the same dignity in death as we give fellow humans. As this story plays out I felt a great deal of compassion for the small pet cemetery business. And their hopes and dreams until it is clear that, for whatever reason I did not clearly glean, the local cemetery must close. Enter the second city, Napa, and the home of Bubbling Well Memorial Park (which is still in business) who have agreed to accept the animals from the first pet cemetery. At this point the film shifts focus from being a heartwarming story about a man wanting to help his community. It becomes a family explaining how to manage a small, but growing, cemetery.
As the second half starts to play out the interviews completely fork away from the original story into a jumbled mess including; that guitar solo, a philosophical lecture on managing life expectations, and the soul of pets (okay, the last one makes a little sense in the documentary).
During the first half of the film I had been questioning what Morris’ intentions with this film really are as I could not tell if he is exploiting people he considers simple; or if he is genuinely interested in the story. In an interview with Morris when he revisits his first work he confirms that he was poking fun at the situation while slightly interested in their story.
In my life I have lost three pets, two dogs and a cat, each during a different phase of understanding. I don’t often look back on their lives and I didn’t until sitting down to write this. They, Buffy, Snoopy, and Frank, are valued memories so I can understand the interviewees who had lost their pets wanting to properly memorializing their family members. Movies are made to we watched and if you make something with which a viewer is unclear of your intentions I would question the film itself as there are very few instances in which I can accept being spoken down to and a film is not one of them. I am glad that I was not immortalized in Mr. Morris’ film.