Gates of Heaven

Permit me to disagree
★★
☆☆
Released: 
1986
Director: 
Errol Morris
Starring: 
Floyd McClure, Cal, Dan, Phil and Scottie Harberts
The Setup: 
Documentary about pet cemeteries [not to be confused with Pet Semeteries], pet owners, owners of pet cemeteries, and guys who render dead animals into fat.
Discussion: 

Maybe I was expecting too much. Maybe it’s because this is one of those times where Netflix tells you “we’re going to ship your movie today!” and then you check again and it has quietly been changed to “We’re going to ship your movie tomorrow” [what, they just didn’t feel like it?]. Then I find out that this is one of those movies that Netflix only has one copy of, and that copy is located in Malaysia, and it’s going to have to travel on camel’s back across the globe, and take approximately 7-12 years to reach you [which for some reason Netflix is not able to tell you before you rent, allowing you to choose something else… but fewer movies for you means more money for them, I guess]. Then, I had heard so much good stuff about it I wanted to watch it with my boyfriend, who had really liked Grey Gardens when we watched that together, so I held off a few more days to get him round. So after all this we played it… and waited for the great part to begin.

I had read outrageous praise for this movie, and from what I had heard, I was expecting something along the lines of Grey Gardens, wherein we are treated to the thoughts and fears of a small segment of society focused very intensely on one thing, and where we get a strange fascination from seeing these odd people and hearing their thoughts.

Alas, that’s here, but not nearly as much as I’d hoped for.

The movie splits into three parts. The first part concerns a group of people attempting to open a pet cemetery, one of whom, we find out later, is in a wheelchair and unable to do any work. They sold plots and buried a few pets, then things fell apart, they had to dig up the pets, and it all just let to a lot of nastiness. This part contains some of what I wanted to see, which is strange people, and the bizarre levels of dedication and sentimentality they have toward their pets. There’s just not nearly enough. And there’s a LOT of stuff about the origins and downfall of the pet cemetery… which is interesting. But you know, lots of things are interesting. In fact, lots of things are MORE interesting.

Then there’s a whole part about a guy who renders dead animals into fat and other products, and in there also are a few pet owners, including this one loopy old lady who is kind of amusing and also sad in a Grey Gardens sort of way.

Then the last and biggest section is devoted to another, very successful pet cemetery, taking a lot of time to detail the psychology of the owner and his two sons, one of whom tried to be a lawyer and didn’t quite make it, and the other who was pretty much a burnout. Their story is mildly interesting, but not related more to the pressures of family businesses than to the business of pets and death and cemeteries, which is what I rented this movie for. It also helps lend to the feeling that Morris shot whatever he could get and edited it together, not that we have one focused statement on one topic.

So there you go. Call me a philistine, I didn’t think much of it.

Should you watch it: 

Everyone else loves it, so take that under advisement. But I would say that there are a great many more interesting documentaries out there.