Marley and Me. Dir. David Frankel. 20th Century Fox. 2008.

Marley and Me. Dir. David Frankel. 20th Century Fox. 2008.

Marley and Me. Dir. David Frankel. 20th Century Fox. 2008. 150 150 Cathrin Hentschke


The film Marley and Meis the film version of the correspondent novel by John Grogan, published in 2008. It thematically focuses on a family that learns important and essential life lessons from their often naughty and neurotic dog.

After their wedding, newspaper writers John (Owen Wilson) and Jennifer Grogan (Jennifer Aniston) move to Florida. To see if they are ready to start a family they adopt Marley, a newborn yellow Labrador Retriever. Immediately, Marley proves to be incorrigible and while the puppy grows into a 100 pound dog, he loses none of his energetic or rambunctious character and behavior. Anyhow, those behavioral traits and happenings that are connected with Marley’s energetic character give John great material for his newspaper column, which, at first, he stumbled to find material for. In a short time, his column becomes increasingly popular among the readers and helps increase the newspaper’s circulation. As the Grogans mature, they start their own family and have children. Although she denies it, Jenny experiences postpartum depression, which is connected with several symptoms, including a growing impatience with Marley and John. Based on this, John asks a friend to care for the dog because Jenny keeps on insisting to give the dog away. However, she quickly realizes that Marley has become an indispensable part of the entire family and agrees that he can stay with them. Life is idyllic for the family until the aging Marley begins to show signs of arthritis and deafness. In addition to this, an attack of gastric dilatation volvulus almost kills him, but he recovers slowly from its serious condition. After a second attack, it becomes clear that another surgery will not help him. For this reason, Marley is euthanized with John at his side. The family pays its last respects to their beloved pet as they bury him beneath a tree in their front yard.


Marley and Me incorporates three common film genres: coming-of-age, comedy and family-drama. All of these genres can be directly connected with the occurrence of animals in the film. Firstly, coming-of-age films mainly focus on the psychological and moral growth/transition of the specific protagonist from youth to adulthood. The main character in this specific case is a male Labrador – Marley – whose personal and physical development is followed through the entire film. Even though he stays a child according to his energetic character and behavior, his life and way to adulthood is told in a detailed way and can be retraced by the observer.

Secondly, Marley and Me also includes characteristics of the comedy genre. These films mainly emphasize on humor and are designed to make the audience laugh through amusement. Those comic sequences are often based on exaggerating characteristics. With reference to this, those characteristics can be observed in Marley and Me mainly in connection with the protagonist Marley and his often exaggerated energetic or rambunctious character and behavioral traits that can be followed through the entire film.

Lastly, Marley and Me also involves several characteristics of the genre of family drama which revolves around conflicts between individual family members and relationships within a family. These characteristics can be observed in Marley and Me at the turning point of the plot, when Jenny, as well as, Marely himself goes through individual life crises and, and end up with the death of the protagonist.

Interpretation of animal presences in Marley and Me

After watching Marley and Me for the first time, it, more or less, seems to be just another corny, but entertaining, film about the life of a developing family and its family dog. Anyhow, taking a deeper look at the human-animal relationship that is based on several different levels, the film increasingly develops into an interesting and diverse story that is mainly based on the existence of the protagonist – Labrador Retriever Marley. Right from the beginning, Marley is a typical dog in many ways, from a dog’s point of view. He is untrained, highly energetic, destructive, and eager to please his humans. Those characteristics can be observed in Marley and Me from the first appearance of the protagonist dog. As the Grogans adopt Marley, they permanently get challenged by his special character. The complexity of problems additionally gets confirmed by a specialized dog coach that educates challenging dogs, who fails to teach Marley any manners. Anyhow, the Grogans do not think about giving Marley away and learn to accept his special, but amiable character. In fact, they learn to see the positive and entertaining aspects about their family dog and turn them into a profitable profession. With reference to this, as mentioned before, the entertaining and often chaotic happenings that are related to Marley’s character give John great material for his newspaper column. On a personal basis, this connection of Marley’s character with the professional context helps to even improve the private relationship between the three. Even as the family grows, and John and Jennifer decide to have children on their own, their deep relationship does not break up. Quite the opposite happens. Marley remains to be an adequate member of the family and increasingly grows into his role of being a real family dog, without losing much of his energetic and chaotic character. The fact that all family members accept and love Marley the way he is, is confirmed in a critical event in the film’s plot. In this context, as mentioned above, Jenny goes through a personal life crisis, which leads to John giving away the family dog for a while. At this point of the story it seems to be the end of the idyllic relationship between the family and their family dog. However, Jenny quickly realizes that Marley has become an indispensable part of the entire family, since all of them, especially the children, miss his presence, and agrees that he can stay with them. From this point, the entire family accepts Marley’s character until the day he dies. Even in his darkest moments the entire family, and especially John, cares for their family dog and accompany him on his last way. As presented by those exemplifying scenes, Marley and Me teaches the audience a great lesson about unconditional love, tolerance and accepting every individual as they are. Life has its ups and downs and consists of many challenges that cannot be solved right away. Anyhow, it is not always the easiest way that makes everything turn out well. In this specific case, the family learns how to focus on the positive parts in a professional, as well as, personal context instead of eliminating them by giving their dog away for not being able to change his character and educate them in the way they would like him to be. Based on this, the film displays that everything has its positive and enriching effects and requests the audience not to give their pets away if any small problem occurs.

Summative points

As mentioned above, the film Marley and Me strongly focuses on the importance of accepting the individual characters of any animal by exemplifying a family dog that is unable to be taught any manners and shows that he can fit into his role anyway. Based on this, it shows that animals have to be seen as equal members of a family, despite of possibly bringing up challenging situations. With reference to this, it is also important to notice that the easiest way of eliminating those problems by giving “problematic” pets away, should not be seen as a legitimate option, since it may cause damage to the specific individual and would violate any individual’s right to be accepted. Based on this, as presented above, it is a necessity to look at possible challenges from a positive point of view and see their enriching potentials. In addition to this, it should also be seen that animals do not only enrich every individual’s personal life, but can also help to improve their life on a professional basis by including them into the working environment without putting them under stress and emotional pressure. All in all, Marley and Me can be seen as an enriching guideline for present and future pet keepers to accept their individual characters and not to make them into something they would like them to be.


At first, Marley and Me sometimes seems to be a little mawkish. Anyhow, despite this fact, the film is often very funny and entertaining on the one, and occasionally very moving on the other hand. Taking a deeper look at the human-animal relationship, the film strikes out the essence of this special relationship, which is represented by the fact that the protagonist dog shows his humans how to give unconditional love and accepting every individual character and stages in life. Looking at the film from this point of view, it makes it stand out from other family dog films that mostly only focus on the positive aspects and unproblematic relationships between humans and their family dogs.

Used sources [Accessed on 01.02.2016]. [Accessed on 28.01.2016]. [Accessed on 01.02.2016]. [Accessed on 28.01.2016]. [Accessed on 28.01.2016].

Rickey, Carrie (2008). Animal magnetism in ‘Marley & Me’. [Accessed on 03.02.2016].

Further reading

Grogan, John (2005). Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog. London: Hodder & Stoughton General Division. [Accessed on 28.01.2016].