Alejandro González Iñárritu wasted no time in putting his ambitions—in the form of non-linear, multidimensional storytelling—on the big screen with his first full-length feature film Amores Perros. The title can be translated two different ways. The literal translation is “Dog Love”, but for those who think that means it is the Spanish version of Must Love Dogs, you will be in for quite a surprise. The second, less literal translation, “Love’s a Bitch”, more aptly captures the essence of the movie, and likely will scare off those hoping for a feel good movie about dogs and John Cusack.
In fact, there are hardly any “feel good” moments in Amores Perros. Rather, the movie focuses on important themes such as the value of companionship, whether it be from family or dogs, and the corruption of this value. Iñárritu achieves the promotion of said themes in an unorthodox but extremely effective manner that involves three seemingly distinct stories told in a fragmented and, at times, non-linear manner. And just to make things even more interesting, Iñárritu opens the film en media res; to be specific, en media of the most important res: the moment that brings the three main stories together.
Through solid writing and some directorial genius, the audience becomes immersed in the life of Octavio as he gets involved in dog fighting to raise money to steal his sister-in-law away from his abusive brother; the story of Valeria, the beautiful supermodel, as she starts her new life in an apartment with her boyfriend, Daniel, who has abandoned his wife and two daughters to be with her; and finally Chivo, the former guerrilla and current convict hitman who desperately wants to meet up with his daughter who thinks he’s been dead for twenty years. Oftentimes Amores Perros movie begs the question how the hell does this all relate?
That question, along with the immersion into the lives of the characters, and the directorial genius of Iñárritu—being that each time one storyline would heat up, the movie would shift to another, and so on—fuels the audience’s interest up until the climactic car accident scene, which actually happens at the beginning of the movie.
Suddenly, and irreversibly, the two involved in the car accident directly—Octavio and Valeria—have their lives ruined. For Valeria, the injuries she sustains reveal an ugly truth over the course of the rest of the movie: Daniel is with her for her beauty. Once she loses her ability to model and walk, he visibly second-guesses his decision to leave his family for her as their relationship boils over, often as a result of their dog Ritchie who goes missing underneath the floor. In fact, the further injuries Valeria sustains which result in her leg being amputated come as she tries to rescue Ritchie from underneath the floor, perhaps trying to reunite herself with a companion that does not love her for her beauty alone.
Octavio’s life, too, unwinds, but not entirely as a result of injuries. Chivo takes his money and his dog after the crash, for starters. But, more devastating, is the painful realization that he has lost all companionship in the world. At his brother’s funeral, he asks the now-widowed Susana to run away with him again, despite her original deceit, and she declines.
In his quest to “save” his mistreated sister-in-law, Octavio loses himself to greed and bad morals all together, while turning his back on his brother and dog. Only when he is sitting at the bus stop alone does he realize that, by turning his back on the well-being of his brother (by sleeping with his wife and arranging for him to be mugged) and his dog (by subjecting him to vicious, fights to the death), he has opened up the door for Susana to turn her back on him as well.
These two characters had it all at one point. Valeria had a flourishing modeling career, a new apartment, a boyfriend who seemingly loved her unconditionally and, of course, her beauty. Octavio had money, a cash cow in his dog, and the belief that he would run away with Susana.
As they lose their companionship—whether due to their own misguiding or not—Chivo does his best to regain his own while displaying the main theme of the movie: that one must not lose sight of the importance of family. He accumulates money as Octavio does, but to give to his estranged daughter rather than to lure his sister-in-law away from his brother. In the end, he leaves the money for her and a message on her voicemail, as well, explaining both his own actions and his love for her. His most intriguing and revealing action, however, is bringing two brothers together—one of which had hired him to kill the other—to either settle their differences civilly or with the pistol he leaves between them (maybe he should’ve left a saw).
Chivo has realized in his old age and regret what all of the other characters lost sight of in their own greed: family and general camaraderie, even from a dog or multiple in the original case of Chivo, are most important and are not to be corrupted due to personal greed. Car accident aside, these storylines are all joined in this one theme.
In a sense, the end is depressing—every character is either dead or alone at the close of the film (besides Chivo who has Octavio’s old dog, renamed “negro”). Yet, upon a closer look, every character in their own misery is in the same place that Chivo once was when, as he tells his daughter, he “thought there were more important things than being with you and your mom”. To conclude his message, he admits he “failed”. Yet, by the end of the movie, regardless of how late he may be, he is on course to fix his failure.
Hopefully, by the end of the movie, the other characters have the same realization as Chivo—that family is most important—before it’s too late.