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!
August 29, 2015
Hell is a German-Swiss post-apocalyptic/horror film (I watched it with English subtitles on Netflix). Released in 2011, starring Hannah Herzsprung, and the directorial debut of Tim Fehlbaum. My synopsis: “In a sun-scorched post-apocalyptic landscape, three travelers (Marie, Leonie, and Philip) head for the mountains based on rumors of water. Bad stuff goes down.”
The Apocalypse Scenario:
Hellish heat. In the near future, solar flares have wreaked havoc with Earth’s atmosphere and increased the planet’s temperature by 10°C (or 18°F). The sun pummels the terrain, scorching all plant and animal life. There are rumors that it still rains “above the treeline” but this notion is dismissed as wishful thinking. The survivors avoid walking during the daylight and cover their skin as if trekking across the Sahara desert. Car windows are decorated with newspaper, cardboard and duct tape in an effort to keep the sunlight out. One character has severe burns on his arm from only two hours of sun exposure.
What They’ve Run Out Of:
Water and Sunscreen. (Seriously, sunscreen must be worth a fortune because no-one ever puts it on.) Our trio scavenges for pretty much everything; water and food are the obvious necessities. The charred landscape is a constant reminder of the Earth’s demise, intensifying the need for food. Marie and Leonie take apart gas-station radiators and toilets in search of water. As our group traverses deeper into the mountains, creating a sustainable source of nourishment becomes central to the plot.
What this Film Adds to the Post-Apocalyptic Genre:
The question of “what will you compromise to survive” is nothing new to the post-apocalyptic genre. My guess is that someone read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and decided to make an entire film exploring the farmhouse scene. (You know the one.) With that said, Hell is a well-made film and the idea of compromise takes a front-seat.
Its implied that Marie and Philip have a sexual relationship that’s somewhat reluctant on Marie’s part. When Leonie questions her older sister about it, Marie replies “we help each other.” When the inevitable stuff goes down, characters are forced to make decisions between their own survival and rescuing part of their group. Finally, we see what lengths a community will resort to in order to survive. The most disturbing part is how these compromises are accepted as part of normal life. The film asks the audience (without words) “What would you do to survive hell on earth?” And, “if the highest ethic isn’t survival, what is it?”
3 out of 5 Zipped Lips.
Post-apocalyptic films are becoming a dime of dozen, and I’m pleased to say that this is one of the better ones. Hell forgoes depicting destruction on a grand scale, preferring to focus on a trio traversing the German countryside in their little red car. The result is intimate, intense, and terrifying. Fehlbaum’s attention to detail, like Philip burning his fingers when he reaches for a sun soaked gas cap, gives the film a human touch of believability and familiarity. We’ve all experienced the intense heat of summer, and here we’re given a picture of a world that’s this way all the time. Even though its lower budget, the camerawork and scenery are all beautiful and terrifying to behold. Fehlbaum is a talented director and I’m looking forward to what he does in the future.
Overall, Hell is a solid but fairly derivative film. The Road, 28 Days Later, and The Walking Dead’s fifth season have all covered these ideas before. If you loved The Road and are looking for something intense, then give Hell a watch on Netflix. If you’re looking for something a little more unique, then skip it in favor of Mad Max or Walking Dead.
What do you think, apocalypse fans? – Don’t forget to check out the rest of our movies in the Post-Apocalyptic Movie Roundup!