Here Are All the Times I Cried During ‘Max,’ the PTSD Dog Movie
Max is a movie about a dog who returns home from the War in Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder.
It made me cry. A lot.
These two things are not unrelated. Ever since my wife and I adopted our dog five years ago I’ve become an absolute mushpot when it comes to dogs onscreen. The most grisly horror movie in the world? Meh; doesn’t make me flinch. One guy does something vaguely mean to a dog? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHERE ARE MY TISSUES?
So, yes, Max, made me cry, but that’s not the best measure of its quality. If you cut an onion in front of me, that’ll bring tears to my eyes too, but that doesn’t make the onion a great work of art. I literally cannot control myself when dogs suffer (or do something smart [or look really cute]) in movies. This is lizard brain stuff; autonomic, uncontrollable responses.
Still, in the interest of open and honest journalism, here is a full and complete accounting of every time it got incredibly dusty in the theater during Max, along with the amount of tears shed. There are some minor SPOILERS for the film here, but I’ve tried to remain vague about stuff not included in the trailer.
Cry #1 - At the funeral for Max’s handler Kyle (Robbie Amell), Max pulls, scratches, and claws with all his might to get to Kyle’s casket. He jumps up on the casket, then lays forlornly in front of it. (Eyes welled up.)
Cry #2 - Max, who remains traumatized following the battle that took Kyle’s life, is nervous, aggressive, and refuses to respond to commands. But when he meets Kyle’s younger brother Justin (Josh Wiggins) for the first time, he suddenly calms down and licks his hand. (More eye-welling.)
Cry #3 - Max, who supposedly won’t listen to anyone, sits when Justin tells him. (Minor sniffles.)
Cry #4 - Justin orders Max to sit, then rides his bike down the road, expecting him to follow. When Justin looks down, Max is nowhere to be found, because he still hasn’t released from his first command. A wide shot shows him sitting patiently at the other end of the street. (Happy tears.)
Cry #5 - Justin’s hometown celebrates the 4th of July with fireworks. But the loud explosions terrify Max. (The dog has PTSD for crying out loud!) Justin tries to console him, but Max refuses to come out of his cage. Eventually, Justin gets in the cage with Max. Max finally calms down when he lays on Justin’s lap. (ALL THE TEARS IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE.)
Cry #6 - Justin watches a video of Kyle training Max as a puppy. Puppy Max is even cuter than grown-up Max. (Technically still crying from last cry.)
Cry #7 - At the end of the training video, Max jumps into the back of a Humvee next to Kyle and happily nuzzles him and licks his face. It dawns on me that I’m deeply upset about this dog’s loss of his best friend, but not necessarily by the death of this man. I acknowledge the absurdity, and continue to cry. (Ugly cry face.)
Cry #8 - Max saves Justin from several dogs who work for an arms dealer. (Double crying, both for Max’s heroism, and for these poor dogs made to serve a mean arms dealer.)
Cry #9 - After getting temporarily separated, Max returns home and jumps on Justin and licks his face. (ALL THE TEARS FROM SEVERAL ADJACENT UNIVERSES.)
Cry #10 - Max saves Thomas Haden Church’s character from danger, licks his face. (SERIOUSLY, HOW AM I STILL GODDAMN CRYING?)
Cry #11 - After a harrowing ordeal, Max returns home. He’s happy and playful and doesn’t seem traumatized anymore. (Ugly cry face, followed by several large, cathartic tears.)
You will note that little of this weeping involved the human characters, or the actual plot of the movie, which drops the PTSD storyline in favor of a formulaic thriller about Justin and Max busting up a ring of gun smugglers. It’s a frustrating bait-and-switch; there’s a great movie to be made from the story of a family and a dog coming together to heal their collective emotional wounds, but director Boaz Yakin instead went with a far more conventional and less emotionally satisfying teen action movie. That’s a shame; the premise seems so rich for a heartfelt family melodrama. Max barely scratches the surface of what it could be. I cried. But I would have cried a lot more if Max was a good movie.