September 1, 2015
A Boy and His Dog is a 1975 low-budget, independently made film; produced, written (with Alvy Moore), and directed by L.Q. Jones, starring Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, Alvy Moore, and Jason Robards. It is based on the novella of the same name by Harlan Ellison.
My synopsis: “Troubled teenage boy (Vic) and his telepathic dog (Blood), scavenge the wasteland looking for food and sex.” SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.
The Apocalypse Scenario:
Nuclear holocaust. The southwestern United States is now an endless wasteland of desert. Neighborhoods from the past have been covered in dirt and many live in these bunker-like homes. The setting is reminiscent of a Western, with lone-ranger characters scavenging about in an endless desert and occasionally encountering a trading post and other travelers. Unlike the wild west, this post-WWIV world is filled with mutants called “screamers”, androids, slavers, marauders, and rape gangs. Vic’s misanthropic canine pal, Blood, is genetically bred to be a telepathic and intelligent police dog. Blood coaches Vic on world history and uses his nose to sniff out food and women (we hear a radar sound effect when he does this).
2024. An opening scroll informs us that “World War IV lasted five days… Politicians have finally solved the problem of urban blight.” This satirical tone continues throughout the film. Its unclear how long civilization has lived this way. Vic is an 18yr old boy who was born and raised in the wasteland, and has no concept of morality or ethics. (The dog reminds Vic of this frequently, but it makes little effect.) It appears as if all of humanity has plunged into an endless search for dwindling food and women.
What They’ve Run Out Of:
Everything, but mostly sex.
A Boy and His Dog is full of unsettling and uncharming satire. Vic views women as objects for his sexual pleasure to be used and discarded. In the beginning of the film, Vic comes upon a woman who was raped and stabbed by marauders minutes ago. Vic is incensed because it was “wasteful.” “They didn’t have to cut her,” Vic exclaims, “she could’ve been used two or three more times.” He spends more time mourning the lost opportunity of sex (and/or rape) than the senseless killing. When Vic eventually meets a teenage girl named Quilla, he draws a pistol and tells her to have sex with him. Vic is interrupted by marauders, and the two teenagers save each other’s lives during a gun battle. Afterwards, they have a consensual relationship.
Quilla lures Vic to an underground, religiously devout, white-faced, 1920’s deep-south, dystopian city named “Downunder.” The population of Downunder has become too inbred over the years and needs Vic (with his outsider genes) to impregnate every woman in the community. Vic’s agrees, believing that his dream of endless sex with a parade of women has finally come true. But, (plot-twist!) he’s hooked up to an extraction machine and doesn’t get to have sex with anyone (cue the sad trombone).
What this Film Adds to the Post-Apocalyptic Genre:
In 1975 there were very few post-apocalyptic films. A Boy and His Dog is credited as an influence in many classics like Mad Max (1979) and the Fallout series. A desert wasteland, marauders, and survivalism have become staples of the genre. The concept of a dystopian “Downunder” community is a reoccuring trope as well. Vic is a flawed and selfish antihero, and films like Mad Max adopted the idea of a “less-than-heroic” protagonist. In my opinion, all of these themes have been addressed by superior films like The Road, Mad Max, and Book of Eli.
1 out of 5 Zipped Lips.
A Boy and His Dog is a “cult-classic” and appears on many “best of the post-apocalypse” lists, a high praise which I vehemently disagree with. The film has a few positives: There’s some satirical treatment of the human condition, bizarre unpredictability, and fun interaction between Vic and his dog. Its also interesting to see how far the Post-Apocalyptic genre has come in 30 years.
The overwhelming weakness of the film is that Vic is a completely unlikeable, self-centered, sex-crazed rapist. The opening two scenes depict Vic whining about how long its been since he’s “gotten laid” and demanding that Blood sniff out a woman for him. (Forget consent, just find a woman to have sex with.) Its really difficult to enjoy or appreciate a film where this is the hero’s central motivation.
A common rebuttal by “cult-classic” defenders is: “what do you expect? He’s a teenager in a horrible world, its not all sunshine and roses.” But rape isn’t something that becomes “funny,” “excusable,” or “satire” simply because the film has a desperate setting. I’m not opposed to the implication of rape or cannibalism in this genre, its certainly an appropriate topic to deal with when discussing the human condition, sin, and the barbarism people are capable of. I’m opposed to treating these topics with a laissez-faire attitude: ill-conceived humor, disrespect, and an utter lack of justice. I’m opposed to the ending, where Vic kills his girlfriend and cooks her so his dog can have a meal. In the final shot, Vic and Blood walk off into the sunset and crack jokes about cannibalism.
There are ways to be dark and depressing about the post-apocalyptic world without demeaning human life. The Road is a great example of a story that is incredibly bleak in its view of human nature, but also gives us some profound truths about hope and morality. The Road touches on many of the same themes (cannibalism, rape, survivalism), but upholds the indispensable value of life instead of stripping it naked and laughing at its bloody corpse.
A Boy and His Dog appears to be toying with nihilism: “the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.” By the end, Vic isn’t any different than he was before. He’s just as selfish and psychopathic as he was at the beginning of the film. The only one aware of this is the telepathic dog, but he hardly seems to care. And… that’s not funny. Its not “classic” or “must-see.” Its really not anything at all.
What do you think, wasteland travelers? Want to defend the film? Let us know in the comments below.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of our films in the Post-Apocalyptic Roundup!