Why We Have Dogs: The Surprising Secret in "The Age of Adaline"

Updated: Feb 12

“Tell me something I can hold on to forever, and never let go” Adaline whispers to her would-be-lover.


“Let go,” he says.


(Now, as an aside, I know you’re wondering what a movie review of The Age of Adaline has to do with a dog blog. Don't worry. Just keep reading. It will all become clear. Now back to Adaline…)


The fountain of youth. Mythical, intoxicating. She’s stumbled upon it unawares, and now at the age of 107, unbeknownst to all except her now-elderly daughter, Adaline still looks as lithe and graceful as when she was 29.


Plausibility aside, the essence of the plot of The Age of Adaline strikes a chord.


She seemingly has what everyone in the world yearns for, immortality and beauty. Yet gaining the very thing the whole world wants, ironically, makes it impossible for her to have the love and connection with others that youth and beauty are supposed to yield. Instead, she breaks up with men she loves, is in hiding from her friends, rarely sees her daughter, and forges false identities every ten years.


___


“Tell me something I can hold on to forever”


Even as Adaline allows herself to unfreeze from her protective facade for a few minutes, opening her heart to love again (love that, to her, is synonymous with loss), she’s paralyzed by the knowledge that her time with Ellis is fleeting. He is fleeting. She will outlive him. Thus, the plea for this 'creature of a day' to say something that will stay with her. As Adaline tells her aged daughter Flemming, “without a future together, love is just heartbreak”.


Faced with the weight of successive heartbreaks, trauma, and conundrums that would crush an ordinary soul, Adaline somehow makes it through for decades, essentially cheerful, if somewhat aloof.


How?


You guessed it.


She has a dog.


(I told you it would all make sense!)


When her young handsome love interest off-handedly reveals that he is a genius, millionaire and philanthropist, as first dates do, and asks about Adaline’s life, she finds the one truthful thing in her web of secrets that she can reveal to help him understand her.


“I have a dog.”


It may have fallen a little flat on their date, but her seemingly shallow statement hides a deep well of meaning.


Adaline has had dog after dog, all of them identical, and is heartbroken when they reach the end of their lifespan. She says “Honey, I’m home” to her beloved pooch who is faithfully waiting for her at home every day when no one else is. She talks to him about her wardrobe choices, coddles him when he is sick, makes photo albums of all the dogs she has loved. Her dog is her one safe haven in a world of mistrust.


In the movie, Adaline confronts her aging dog’s inevitable death. And it is more than just sorrow that hinders her ability to accept Ellis’s romantic advances afterwards. It’s a one-sided mortality reality check; apparently she is afraid she will love and lose Ellis, and never be able to replace him.


As you might expect, in the end, Adaline’s agelessness is reversed, and she delightedly finds her first gray hair while on her way out the door for a date with Ellis. In the background, her daughter cares for a new puppy, signaling a new era, a new identity, and the rejuvenation of hope.


Adaline has found love at last.


Or so they would have us believe.


But if, like me, you feel unsettled by the fact that Adaline was in love with and nearly engaged to Ellis’s father William back in the 1960’s, and if, like me, you can’t see Ellis and Adaline together in the same way again, after her history with his 70 year old dad has been thoroughly developed and aired, only to resolve that William is truly in love with Kathy, his wife of 40 years who he met after Adaline, well then, maybe like me, you would argue that neither of these men are her true love.


Maybe the real love of her life has been there all along: her dogs.


They were with her through everything, when no one else could be. They shared her joys and sorrows for eight decades. They never cared about her looks, good or bad, or criticized her for using her immortality to work at a library. They simply loved her. And that is the magic of dogs, friends.


No science fiction required.

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