My Life as a Dog, which is based on an autobiography, presents the story of young Ingmar, a twelve-year old boy who, as they say, has issues. His mother is not terribly motherly and mostly just wants to be left alone. She is also dying of consumption. Ingmar doesn’t know this and just wants to get her attention. Unfortunately, when he succeeds in getting her attention, more often than not, it is of the wrong kind as she, unable to cope, succumbs to rage and hysteria, physically lashing out at those around her. Compounding Ingmar’s difficulties is a slightly older brother who is also cruel to him in the mischievous way slightly older siblings frequently are. Ingmar, however, is quite the fighter and a master at coping. Rather than become overcome by his misfortune, he reminds himself that he could be much worse off. He does so not simply with platitudes, but concretely by comparing himself to examples of people and even animals he deems less fortunate than himself. A kidney transplant patient who survives the operation only to die anyway. A stunt cyclist who attempts to jump 31 buses and lands one shy at 30. The Russian “space dog” Laika who is shot into space only to starve to death when her food supply runs out. In this way, Ingmar is able to survive emotionally intact, and this, ultimately, is his victory. As his mother gets to a point where she is no longer able or perhaps willing to look after her children, he is sent away to the country to stay with his uncle, and in the country, Ingmar finds contrasted with the sickness and death of the city a strange variety of sex and vitality that begin to awaken him to as yet new and strange possibilities.
My Life as a Dog has a curious and wonderful way of being severe without being melancholy. It serves as a reminder that while we all have our issues, and while life can certainly be barren and miserable at times, it can be sort of wonderful too, if we but persevere and learn to develop an appreciation for the absurd as it exists in our situations and those of the strange and wonderful characters around us.