WARNING!! Beyond this place, there be SPOILERS!!!
He’s incorrigible, disobedient, destructive, hyperactive… and maybe mentally unbalanced. He’s the world’s worst dog, and John Grogan wouldn’t have him any other way. Grogan wrote about his Labrador Retriever Marley in his book Marley and Me. The columnist and his wife Jenny decide to buy a dog to hone their nurturing skills before having children. They pick a puppy and instantly fall in love. Though the love affair never ends, Marley – as the dog is named – truly tests their love and patience on a daily basis. Grogan writes of Marley’s bad habits and antics, his terror of thunderstorms, his insatiable appetite for anything that can get in his mouth and the numerous attempts at obedience training. But with Marley’s behavioral issues are traits of loyalty, devotion, protectiveness and love that he gives to the master and his family throughout his life and the weeks before his death.
The movie version of Marley and Me follows the book’s structure rather loosely; events are re-arranged and meaning re-interpreted in order to fit thirteen years into two hours. The focus is on John and Jenny’s relationship and growth, and John’s accepting his destiny as a columnist instead of a crack reporter. Of course, we see Marley’s antics, and seeing them come to life on-screen makes for hilarious moments.
But the movie misses out on Marley’s finer moments that are the substance of the book: His standing guard in protection of a stabbing victim; his taking Jenny’s physical blows of post-partum frustration; his “getting” obedience training; and his bonding with Grogan. In fact, aside from the comic relief, Marley is largely absent from the movie. We don’t see how movie Marley impacts the Grogans’ lives except in brief instances, like a scene where Jenny dances with him. Other than that, movie Marley chomps and tears and charges about scenes that are great for laughs.
I thought the movie would shy away from Marley’s death and opt for a happier ending, but it did show Marley’s suffering through the maladies of old age and John and Jenny’s painful decision to euthanize him. The movie John and family draw closer to Marley, understanding that his time is short; book Marley, however, manages to keep up his puppy-like exuberance until the end, continuing the life lessons that book John cherishes.
All in all, the book and movie differ vastly on their approaches to the main subjects. The book focuses on the dog at his worst and best and how the Grogans love him despite; the movie shows the ups and downs of John and Jenny’s relationship and John’s acceptance of his destiny, with Marley there for comic relief or to spur conflict. Both acknowledge that Marley, the “world’s worst dog,” is the best thing ever to happen to the Grogans.
The book Marley and Me is available at CCLS libraries.
The movie version is available on DVD. Check a video retailer or rental store for availability.
In an interview, John Grogan advises to think seriously about owning a dog, especially Labrador Retrievers, before purchasing one. CCLS has books on various dog breeds, like The Complete Dog Book, specific breeds, like Labrador Retrievers, and for training dogs. Ask a librarian for assistance.