November 4, 2019, by Kristin Neva
Friday movie night has become our favorite pastime, as it’s something we can still enjoy as a family despite my husband Todd’s paralysis. We typically find a funny movie on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Our children, Sara and Isaac, pull up chairs around Todd’s computer. We laugh together. Todd predicts the scenes. Our goldendoodle, Comet, lies in front of Sara, and she pets him for an hour and a half.
A couple weekends ago, I found something to see in the theater: “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” based on a book by the same name. In the film, a philosophizing dog dreams of becoming a race car driver. The trailer made the movie look fun.
Enzo, a golden retriever voiced by Kevin Costner, reminded me of Comet. Todd frequently provides a voice for Comet. Speaking gently, he says, “Sara, I want a hug.” Or, “Isaac, can you get me food and water? I would get it myself, but I don’t have thumbs.”
I skimmed an online review to make sure “The Art of Racing in the Rain” was family-friendly, but didn’t read it in detail.
We went to the theater for a last hurrah before the kids went back to school and fall activities started.
We got popcorn and settled into our seats at the back of the theater, with Todd parked in a cutout for wheelchairs. Todd tilted back, and I turned off his chair so the display for his head array wouldn’t shine in his face.
With Todd’s compromised health, I like to keep multiple hands out of the communal bucket of popcorn, so I pulled plastic cups out of my bag, filled them, and handed them to the kids. I filled a Dixie cup and held it to Todd’s mouth. He plucked kernels from the cup with his tongue.
The movie got off to a promising start. An old dog reflects on his life: His first memories with his littermates. Being selected by his master, Denny. Learning about racing and appreciating Denny’s ability to win when the conditions turn bad.
Denny doesn’t fear the rain; rather, he expects the car to lose traction, and he initiates a controlled slide going into a corner. He is the greatest race car driver, in Enzo’s mind.
Enzo gets jealous when Denny meets Eve, but he learns to appreciate her. Enzo is the ring bearer at their wedding, and he’s in awe when he finds Eve is carrying a life inside her. He hopes the child will look like him. But alas, Eve has a human child — Zoe.
I’m a sucker for a good love story. The movie flashes through scenes in their life until Zoe is about 7 years old. But then I realized I had missed a major plot point.
Eve begins taking pain relievers, and Enzo smells decay on her breath, like rotting wood. It turns into a story about cancer.
Enzo knows it, but he’s helpless to tell the other characters. They’re oblivious to the significance of Eve’s symptoms: headaches, nausea, and forgetfulness.
I looked over at my kids, wondering if they’d figured out where the story was heading. I glanced over to Todd. “I didn’t see that coming,” he whispered.
Ugh. Whoops. We would have skipped this one if I had read the review more carefully.
It’s the type of story I would read on my own. I’m drawn to books that explore themes of grief and loss. I just finished “Being Mortal,” by Dr. Atul Gawande. He tells stories about his patients and his own father, shedding light on complex issues surrounding illness, aging, and death. “Being Mortal” made me feel like my family isn’t alone in dealing with a terminal disease. We’re all human, and we all die.
However, I avoid such tender topics when I watch television shows or movies with the kids, preferring to let them be as carefree as possible. We’re dealing with enough in real life.
In “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” Eve takes Enzo for a walk and collapses on the trail. Enzo barks, bringing help to her, but then she’s diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
Tears welled up in my eyes, and I anxiously glanced at the kids to see if they were handling it OK. They seemed fine.
I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say that Denny risks losing control, and he has to decide whether he’s going to freeze up in fear or drive hard through the rain.
“It wasn’t exactly an escape from the weightiness of our situation, but maybe it was good that the kids saw it,” I thought on the drive home, as we discussed the highlights and concluded that Enzo might be a deeper thinker than Comet.
Maybe the kids can absorb strength from fictional characters who are facing adversity and not feel alone.
This article originally appeared in ALS News Today: The Art of Choosing a Family-friendly Movie.