Dog Tags (2008)
Life can sometimes seem claustrophobic – like we are stuck moving in a certain direction with no choices. But there are always choices, and sometimes we have a chance to make exactly what we want of it.
Synopsis from IMDB: “Abandoned by his father and raised by a single mother, Nate Merritt joins the Marines to support his soon-to-be fiancée. While on leave in Palm Springs, Nate meets a seemingly free spirited young gay man, who leads him on a path of discovery–and to the surprising identity of the father he never knew.”
In one of the first scenes of the film we see Nate with his girlfriend. This sets the stage for Nate as she berates and is practically emotionally abusive. She tells him that basically he’s a failure that no one would be proud of. Nice relationship right? Contrary to the progression of the story, she says, “Don’t forget that that.. It’s a tiny little world.”
One of the themes here is a universal one: that life can be a blank slate that is what you make of it. Sometimes serendipity can lead us in one direction or another, but it’s up to us to make of it what we want. Sometimes the problem really is that we’re not sure what we want.
Through a chance encounter Nate runs into Andy, and they begin to explore the next few days of their lives together. They help each other though letting go of things that hold them back, and push each other to be better people. In the meantime, Nate finds that he has an attraction to Andy.
In one scene that I think develops another theme, Nate and Andy have had an intimate encounter and Nate isn’t sure what to do next. He wonders if he shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing. Andy replies, “There’s no should or supposed to. What does Nate want to do?” I see this representing the struggle of both characters in a way: Nate is very worried about what other people think he should be doing, while Andy is doing less of that in an almost detrimental manner. Somewhere between lies balance.
There were a few pieces of the story that I felt were a little superfluous. Andy’s past love interest that also happened to be a marine for instance. In the moment where Nate and Andy really connected, Andy went off to this past memory. I realize that this was a part of his development, but it also took away from what was happening in the moment. For someone who advocates “infinite possibilities” out of nothing, he seems stuck in the past.
I think what I like best about this film is that it depicts two people who otherwise would not have anything in common not only finding something in common but helping each other in ways one wouldn’t think possible. I think it’s about that connection we find with strangers that sometimes surprises us, and also reminds us that we’re all more alike than we sometimes think.
I also like the message that life is like a blank slate at times, especially when we are discovering new things about ourselves. We have a chance sometimes to start over and to create a new reality for ourselves. There are constant references to seizing the day and starting off with a clean slate. The blank movie screen, the blank picture, the blank wall… all represent the endless possibilities that the film talks about.
Overall the film is intelligent and makes you think. It’s filled with metaphor and good themes. One of the films of the past decade that I would recommend.
TLA: DVD & Streaming