My Life as a Dog (Swedish: Mitt liv som hund) is a 1985 Swedish film directed by Lasse Hallström and adapted from the novel of the same name by Reidar Jönsson, is a very heart-wrenching and symbolic story about a boy named Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius) who is sent to live with relatives in the countryside when his mother falls ill.
The story, which takes place in The '50s, starts out with Ingemar, a boy living in the Stockholm area with his mother and older brother. Ingemar is a handful, constantly getting into trouble and driving his mom nuts with his beloved dog, Sickan. Ingemar does not realize his mother is terminally ill. When he and his brother become too much to handle, the boys are split up and sent to live with different relatives. Ingemar is sent to live with his Uncle Gunnar in Småland. Ingemar pleads to bring his dog with him, but he is not allowed to and is told his dog will be placed in a kennel.
Ingemar has to adapt to living in a strange land with strange people. Mostly what makes them strange is how rural they are when he's used to the city. Also, several of them are eccentric like a boy with natural green hair and an artist that makes giant sculptures of naked women.
The name of the movie comes from the boy comparing himself to Laika, the first dog sent into space. The boy constantly talks about how they left the dog up there to die. Near the end of the film, the boy has a nervous breakdown thinking that he's Laika. He barks like a dog and locks himself in the guest house that he imagines to be his space shuttle. His uncle is hard pressed to figure out how to get the boy to leave his space shuttle.
In 1996, it was adapted into a television series which aired on Showtime in the United States. In the TV version, the setting was changed to contemporary Canada.
My Life as a Dog contains examples of:
- The '50s: The film takes place in Sweden from 1958 to 1959.
- Big Brother Bully: Erik to Ingemar. In the beginning, Erik uses an empty bottle on Ingemar to explain the birds and the bees to a group of neighborhood kids. He makes Ingemar insert his penis into the bottle, which ends up causing injury to Ingemar.
- Blood Oath: Ingemar does this with his friend Lilla to symbolize their “marriage.”
- Break the Cutie: Though Ingemar starts to tear up at the hospital, is it not until learning his dog was euthanized that he fully lets his grief out. He spends a night alone in the summer house, and when his uncle is finally able to get inside, he finds Ingemar sobbing underneath a blanket.
- Children Are Innocent: When visiting his mother in the hospital, Ingemar asks her what she would like for Christmas. His mom tells him, “You know what to get me” and smiles. Ingemar happily decides to buy her a toaster, not realizing she is terminally ill and likely will not live to receive his present.
- Coming of Age: The film is a coming-of-age story, following Ingemar’s personal growth over the course of a year as he copes with the difficulties of life.
- Construction Is Awesome: The summer house Uncle Gunnar and Ingemar work to build over the course of the film.
- Deadpan Snarker: Ingemar.[After Ingemar gets into trouble again]Mother: Why do you do these things?Ingemar: What?Mother: Like in the cellar just now.Ingemar: It wasn't me.Mother: Oh, why do you do it?Ingemar: I don't know. I guess it's menopause.[Mother smiles and laughs]
- Delusions of Doghood: Early during Ingemar’s stay with Uncle Gunnar, he sees his uncle jokingly imitating a dog and copies him. Towards the end, after Ingemar has lost both his mother and his actual dog, he pretends he is a dog in a prolonged sequence and barks at Gunnar, to his uncle’s bewilderment.
- Disappeared Dad: Ingemar and his older brother Erik are raised by their single mother. The father is a merchant marine away at sea. When Ingemar’s friend asks him about his father, Ingemar tells her he is near the equator loading bananas.
- Embarrassing Damp Sheets: Ingemar wets the bed when Erik wakes him up with his air rifle. Erik hides the damp sheets under the sink and makes Ingemar swear not to tell their mother what happened. However, she inadvertently finds the sheets and loses it.
- Hands-Off Parenting: Uncle Gunnar is not used to kids and, though he bonds with Ingemar, he keeps a degree of emotional distance until the last part of the film.
- Homemade Inventions: The neighborhood kids of Småland construct a makeshift life-sized spaceship that glides along a wire. During their first time riding it, it comically gets stuck mid-flight and a ladder is needed to get the kids down. It works correctly the second time.
- I Miss Mom: Ingemar has to spend time apart from his mother so she can get the peace and quiet she needs for her health. He doesn’t stop missing her while he’s away with relatives. Tragically, after his mother dies, Ingemar is devastated. His Uncle Gunnar and new friends help him to heal.
- Implausible Hair Color: Manne, Ingemar’s friend, has an unusual genetic trait. Manne’s natural blonde hair is a slight shade of green due to genetics. This makes Manne as much of an outsider as Ingemar.
- It's Not Porn, It's Art: At the glass factory, an artist makes vases with breasts on them, prompting some complaints from his fellow workers. The artist also sculpts nude statues of women, which again prompt judgment (the statues have artistic merit but are twenty-feet tall structures). Ingemar gets caught peeping on the nude model being sketched by the artist when the glass window he's spying through shatters.
- Lover Tug of War: A girl in Ingemar and Saga’s class takes a liking to Ingemar, to Saga’s displeasure. At the girl’s birthday party, the girl invites Ingemar up to her room. Saga barges in and the two girls hilariously fight over Ingemar.
- Loving Bully: Saga is a girl who beats Ingemar up because she likes him.
- Misplaced Accent: Somehow the two brothers have completely different accents. Ingemar speaks Swedish with a Göteborg-accent, while his brother Erik speaks a strong Stockholm dialect. Gunnar is supposed to be from Småland, yet he speaks with a strong Göteborg accent as well. Both of these are "Geatish dialects" (Götamål), however the dialect of Göteborg differs enough from that of Småland that it is jarring to those who are familiar with Swedish dialects.
- Parents in Distress: Ingemar’s mother cannot handle raising him and his older brother, as they can be troublesome and she is suffering from tuberculosis. This results in the two boys being sent to live with relatives so she can have some temporary peace and quiet to herself.
- Poor Man's Porn: Arvidsson, an elderly man who lives with Uncle Gunnar and Aunt Ulla, has a lingerie catalog he keeps stashed under his bed. When Ingemar comes to live there, he has the boy read the catalog to him when no one else is around.
- Running Gag: Gunnar frequently plays the Swedish version of the song "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" on his record player, to the annoyance of his wife. Later, Gunnar inadvertently destroys his record player when he absentmindedly throws a wrench that lands on top of it.
- Sanity Slippage: To cope with his experiences of loss and parental abandonment, Ingemar imitates his pet dog Sickan, and repeatedly brings up the story of the dog Laika, the first dog sent into space. The reasoning behind these actions are he identifies with the dog being subject to the whims of adults and not being given the proper care and affection.
- Self-Serving Memory: Ingemar’s memories of his mom are of happier times, with them laughing together on the beach. This contrasts to his interactions with his mother in the present. Ingemar is constantly getting into trouble, which tests his mother’s patience and results in her losing her temper or breaking down.
- When Ingemar is comparing different traumatic events in his narration, he references several examples, including the real-life story of Laika, the first dog to travel to space but was never coming back.
- At the end, the residents of Småland are listening to a radio broadcast of a famous 1959 championship boxing match between Swede Ingemar Johansson and American Floyd Patterson.
- Silence Is Golden: After Ingemar learns that his beloved dog Sickan has been euthanized, there is a flashback of Ingemar back home with his dog, running into his mother's room and driving her nuts with his shenanigans. He dives under his mother's bed with Sickan and pretends not to hear his mom. This whole scene is played in slow motion without sound, underscoring Ingemar's overwhelming feeling of loss.
- Slice of Life: The film shows vignettes of daily life in rural Småland, particularly its eccentric residents.
- Take Care of the Kids: The illness of Ingemar’s mother necessitates that he and Erik temporarily stay with relatives. When the kids are back home in the city and she is in the hospital, Ingemar and Erik are taken in by their Uncle Sandberg, but Sandberg’s wife voices displeasure at taking in the kids. After Ingemar’s mom passes away, he is sent back to his Uncle Gunnar in Småland.
- Tantrum Throwing: Ingemar throws a fit when his mom tells him he cannot bring his dog with him to stay at Uncle Gunnar’s.
- Tomboy: Saga. She boxes, wears her hair short, and passes herself off as a boy so she can play on the boys’ soccer team.