Last year, a film used dogs to make a political, cultural, and religious statements about immigrants in Europe. White God received critical acclaim, but a limited theatrical release (you can now streat it on Netflix). This year, another indie film out of Minnesota sends an equally strong message through the story of one man’s bond with a stray dog. Here’s hoping for easy access to Musa Syeed’s film, A Stray, because it’s one that many people need to see.
In A Stray, Adan (Barkhad Abdirahman) is a Somali immigrant living in Minneapolis. He crashes at his friends’ place, but he’s a bit of an outcast, and they frequently make fun of him. His mother has kicked him out of her apartment because she believes he’s stolen some of her jewelry. He camps out at the local Mosque, where he meets Faisal, a fellow Muslim, who takes pity on him and offers him a job at his restaurant. Out on a delivery run, Adan encounters a stray dog that further complicates his life. Adan’s also spying on his friends for the FBI, who suspects they’re terrorists. They’re harmless, so Adan says, but the agent isn’t buying it and constantly dangles “treats” in front of Adan like her own pet. Adan and the dog gradually form a bond that provides clarity for Adan and brings him closer to God.
A Stray benefits from restrained writing and direction by Syeed. Rather than over-politicizing, he opts for subtler messages. Abdirahman as Adan is equally understated, rexisting an over-dramatized performance. The camera quietly traces Adan and his new friend’s long, meandering walks through the city, allowing us to more deeply ponder his perilous existence.
It’s an odd couple to be sure, a Muslim man and a dog, but it’s a sweet one. And there are so many parallels between the heart(s) of Islam and Christianity on display here, namely the denial of self in service to others. Salvation for the afterlife (and fulfillment in this life) comes not in right belief or doctrinal affirmation, but in how we treat the least of these and, especially, our enemies. The film suggests that to think or act otherwise is a perversion of the faith.
Faisal tells Adan that God helps those who help themselves, but as Adan tells the imam, “[We] need a better prayer.” A Stray shows a deeper truth: God helps those who help others.