Stray Review: An intriguing look at human morality through the eyes and ears of an unlikely source
The feature directorial debut of documentarian Elizabeth Lo is a surreal look at humanity through the eyes and ears of stray dogs.
In recent years, there’re have been more organizations and initiatives that have people emulate the experience of the homeless in order for them to feel their invisible pain. Stray acts in this same vein as the documentary follows three stray dogs that roam the streets of Istanbul, Turkey. This location ends up being pivotal as the film opens with some text that talks about Turkey’s history with strays. For nearly a century, authorities eradicated mass populations of street dogs until widespread protests helped enact a law that made euthanizing stray dogs and holding them captive illegal. Now dogs roam the streets relatively free but remain under the swift judgement of people.
Maybe it’s the dog lover in me or the fact that the three dogs Lo focuses on evoke this warming innocence, but there’s something about the film that instantly latches onto your heart. When we initially meet our central dogs (the fiercely independent nomad Zeytin, the more nurturing and human befriending Nazar, and young pup Kartal), there’s something about their journey that makes you feel the struggles and obstacles in their lives. Zeytin is initially seeing dodging busy traffic, Nazar sleeps in an unsafe construction zone, and Kartal has a long life to live living off the scraps of kind security guards. However, although these conditions can present seemingly harsh living conditions and rough lives for the dogs ahead, you wouldn’t really know it from looking at them.
Most of the time they look free and seeing this breaks down the idea of dogs being these snarly wild beasts if they’re not domesticated. They’re certainly capable of surviving both in packs or on their own and move about the city with more whereabouts than most of its human residents. With no real narration, the three dogs are in charge of telling their own stories and leading the film. Frankly, I’d love to see some behind the scenes footage of Lo following these dogs because it’s incredibly impressive how she manages to not have civilians or dogs constantly looking into the camera. The viewing experience is never broken because of this and it makes you more invested into the narrative and perspective that she’s capturing.
I will say that the viewing experience of silently following dogs around can be a bit tiresome and even get a little boring, but the human interactions that Lo showcases create a deeper experience that looks at human morality. Stray really shows the differences in people’s perspectives in looking at strays, which as said before could be conveyed in the same ways as the homeless, and it’s a very self-reflective experience. As you see who fears, cares for, and looks down on the strays it makes you question your own views of the people, how they treat the strays, and your own approach of seeing a stray animal. Lo also includes some quotes about the role of dogs that help spark more thought about everything you’re seeing, and she even makes the message of these quotes felt by showing the dogs in center of big public events like protests and impact individual lives to show their own role in humanity.
Stray is an incredibly unique look at humanity as its starring stray dogs instantly capture your heart and Lo’s impressive direction expertly weaves together a wandering narrative about their experiences. It’s an impactful view of human morality through an unlikely source and ends up being surprisingly self-reflective.