LAURIE ANDERSON has been through a lot. The iconic New York artist lost husband Lou Reed in 2013, and among other friends who've recently passed is beloved rat terrier Lolabelle—the titular focus of Anderson's first film in a decade, Heart of a Dog. Despite the essential grief folded into the project, Dog is a soothing, therapeutic film: ramblingly personal, strong and calm, and gently funny.
As a narrative, Heart of a Dog is hard to describe; it doesn't tell a story in the proper sense, and has a touch-and-go relationship with time. Anderson serenely narrates a variety of footage—of Lolabelle, of 9/11, of her own wiggling animations—with observations about her relationship with the dog and watching the world change in response to a major terrorist attack. She finds comfort in Wittgenstein and David Foster Wallace, but most of all she turns to the teachings of Buddhism, which informed her philosophy on Lolabelle's care—including giving the dog everything from piano and painting lessons to a natural death. Reed, meanwhile, is a mostly unspoken presence, briefly appearing onscreen and haunting the lines of Anderson's prose, but the film is dedicated to his memory and one of the film's most powerful moments is its last, when "Turning Time Around" accompanies a closing-credit series of personal, archival images.
The transitions between Dog's chapters are associative, replicating the natural wanderings of the mind. Anderson's trick is harnessing that into a cohesive rhythm, so that each new arrival at a repeated theme produces an increasingly yogic sense of profundity—despite the centrality of death and aging throughout, Dog is only occasionally sad.
This is one of Anderson's more broadly appealing efforts, despite its non-conformist structure—perhaps in proportion to the universality of increasingly mature perspective. I recommend it as I would a healthy diet and exercise: It's art that's truly good for you.