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Film Facts:

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.

a boy and his dog peeing

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).

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The Year:
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.

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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).

downunder girls

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.

a boy and his dog closeup

Isaac’s Rating:

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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 boy and his dog quilla

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.

a boy and his dog movie theater

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!

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Film Facts:

The City of Ember. Released in 2008 and based on the 2003 novel of the same name. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Bill Murray, and Tim Robbins. Directed by Gil Kenan.

The Apocalypse Scenario:

In the midst of a global war,“the Builders” constructed an underground “City of Ember” to preserve the human race until Earth’s surface could once again support civilization. After 200 years, a locked box entrusted to the mayor would open with instructions to return to the surface. The generations born in Ember would have no knowledge of the previous world or anything outside. But the box was lost, their secret departure date long passed, and now the city’s power generator is dying; threatening to leave humanity in eternal darkness.


The Year:

241 years after an apocalyptic war (approximately the 2250’s).

What They’ve Run Out Of:

Electricity.
The City of Ember is beautifully lit by light bulbs on the cavern walls and throughout the city. The generator, however, has operated far longer than it was designed to. Machines are breaking down and supplies are running out; the City of Ember is doomed.

Human Creativity and Innovation.
The citizens, especially the mayor, are less than concerned as generations of dependence on the generator has made humanity naive, bored, and complacent. The two protagonists, teens Lina and Doon, embody the human spirit of curiosity and adventure that has faded from the City of Ember. It is through their unwavering resolve to save Ember that they discover and decipher the Builder’s plans for exodus. Ember allows us to witness what happens to a society when human creativity, exploration, and adventure are stifled for over two centuries

What this Film Adds to the Post-Apocalyptic Genre:

The necessity of creativity, ambition, and imagination.
City of Ember is unique in many ways. Its a children’s tale, weaving layers of metaphor and commentary. It avoids chaotic destruction to focus on a remnant of humanity: naïve souls who know nothing other than the City of Ember. This idea of a “vault” or “secret society” who survives underground is common in the post-apocalyptic genre and it is usually approached in a gritty, perverse fashion with unsympathetic, heavy-handed messages. Human ambition is typically presented as the downfall of humanity (i.e., creating nuclear weapons). Ember takes the opposite approach, demonstrating creativity, ambition, and innovation as absolutely necessary human virtues.

Rating:

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3.5 Zipped Lips.

The City of Ember is promoted as a kids story but refuses to sacrifice good storytelling in order to be family friendly (its closer to classics like The Giver than fantasy adventures like Percy Jackson). It avoids the #1 pitfall of all kids’ movies: the “Adults are Useless” trope. The young heroes of Ember seek adult help with the mystery and through various twists and turns they eventually must journey alone. The concept design is breathtaking, the soundtrack stirring, and the final combination is stellar. The City of Ember is appropriate enough for the kiddos but layered enough to be loved by anyone with a bit of imagination.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of our reviews in the Post-Apocalyptic Roundup!

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Film Facts:

The Book of Eli – Released in 2010, starring Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman, and directed by Albert and Allen Hughes.

The Apocalypse Scenario:

A global nuclear holocaust, presumably the result of a global thermo-nuclear war, although it isn’t explicitly specified. Civilization has essentially been wiped out and there is significant environmental damage, including irradiated water, lingering radioactive fallout, and vast desert wastelands.

The Year:

The film takes place 30 years after the nuclear holocaust, only a few survivors still remember “the before time”. The actual time of the holocaust isn’t specified, but judging from the items that are left, namely iPods, KFC wet-wipes, RPGs, and station wagons, the nuclear destruction happened right around this week. I think it’s safe to say that the film takes place within a couple years of 2040.

What They’ve Run Out Of:

Basically everything: shampoo, batteries, gasoline, and chapstick are all hot commodities. Safe drinking water is very important, as is safe food, and in its absence many people have taken to cannibalism. However, what the film centers on (if you haven’t guessed it already) is books, and one book in particular: the Bible. Many books were lost in the destruction and afterward any remaining Bibles were burned, apparently many people saw it as the cause of the nuclear war. Eli, the protagonist, is carrying what is, presumably, the last one left on earth.

What this Film Adds to the Post-Apocalyptic Genre:

While most of the content is well conceived and depicted, it’s also pretty standard: roaming biker gangs, cannibals, bows and machetes used along with guns, desert wastelands dotted with ruined overpasses. What sets this film apart and also makes it a whole lot more interesting, is a surprisingly strong Christian element. All of us here on Shut Up agreed that it was the most overtly Christian film since The Passion of the Christ, and that’s no overstatement. While the film avoids explicitly mentioning Jesus or God, Eli quotes Psalms and talks about faith. The film acknowledges that the authority of Scripture can be abused by dictators, but it also depicts the depravity of humanity and the necessity of God’s Word. There is also a surprise ending (so don’t let anyone spoil it for you) that only makes sense if you factor the providence of God into the events of the film.

Book of Eli

Luke’s Rating:

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A solid four zipped-lips; it’s not perfect, but it’s well made and surprisingly good. If you haven’t seen it yet, do it. If you have, see it again with someone who hasn’t, you’ll certainly talk about it afterwards. Don’t forget to check out the rest of our movies in the Post-Apocalyptic Roundup!

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poster From The Walking Dead to Mad Max: Fury Road, the post-apocalypse is hot. Fluctuating between action, adventure, drama, and science fiction, its one of the most captivating genres out there. The post-apocalypse presents a new frontier, a landscape for ethical questions, warnings for the present, and a place to explore what makes humanity, well, human. (I will explore these ideas in future posts.) Stuck somewhere between fatalism and optimism, the genre is one caught in a very human tension. Are we a necessary part of this world, or a parasite that leads to its destruction? Is humanity truly “The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!” as Hamlet wonders? Or merely “this quintessence of dust”? My belief is that the endless wastelands serve as a foil, highlighting the courage it takes to be a virtuous person in a ghastly world. We’re excited to take you on a tour through the good, bad, and ugly of the post-apocalyptic genre. And whatever you do, please, don’t forget to shut up and watch the movie. P.S. A special thanks to Dalton from Sickle and Efrit for making our poster. – Check out his stuff!

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