When photographer Ben Moon had cancer, his dog Denali stayed by his side — even in his hospital bed — throughout the whole struggle. When it became obvious that Denali himself was dying, Moon stuck by his old friend in much the same way. He and Denali took one last trip around to all their old haunts — mostly beaches, deserts, and mountains where they’d gone camping and had other adventures.
The result of that journey is a seven-minute film called Denali that tells the story of Moon and his dog’s relationship in a simple, heartbreaking way. It’s embedded at the end of this article, and while we recommend that you check it out, you might want to make sure that you’re feeling up for it. It’s a tender remembrance, but if you’ve lost anyone lately, whether human or animal, it might cut a little close to the bone.
Denali is told from the point of view of the dog himself. “I’m pretty sure Ben knows I’m dying,” the voiceover says near the opening of the film. “I’m not sure if it’s the cancer or something else, but he’s been taking me to all the places we used to go to and checking on me a lot. The other day he asked me to let him know when I was ready to go.”
What follows isn’t just about dogs; it’s about mortality and love and friendship.
Because Moon himself is a photographer, much of the film is done in stills. There are a lot of shots of how close Moon himself came to death. We see him in a hospital bed, in a gown and filled with IV tubes, cuddling next to Denali. There is also a reminder of just how willing we are to let people die in the name of bureaucracy and profits: A close-up of a letter from Moon’s insurance company that says with polite brutality, “We are rescinding your coverage and denying the claim.”
We take turns being on each side of this relationship over the course of our lifetimes: Too often the caretakers and mourners, and inevitably the one who is mourned. The film is not so much about traveling from one beautiful vista to another, but about Denali’s journey from one side of the equation to the other, and the relationship between him and Ben Moon. The script, written by director Ben Knight, doesn’t dive into cloying sentimentality like it so easily could have. It’s just a quiet reminiscence of two lives together. If you think that you’re up for it, we highly recommend that you take a look.
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