Monday, March 9, 2009

Movie of the Week - A Boy and His Dog

It’s been a while since the last “Movie of the Week,” but starting this week I’ll do my best to bring back the tradition and talk about a new (old) movie each Sunday or Monday.

A Boy and His Dog (1974) is a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie based on a short story by Harlan Ellison. Future Miami Vice star Don Johnson plays Vic, an 18-year-old boy who is able to communicate telepathically with his dog, Blood (voiced by Ted McIntire). The story follows the two as they scavenge the last nuclear war-ravaged vestiges of civilization for food, drink, and (in Vic’s case) women.

Vic is a crude, immoral, and misogynistic character, and his behavior ranges from the absurd to the downright deplorable. Living as he is, in such a lawless, tenuous world, perhaps we can’t expect much better of him. Nevertheless, it’s hard to sympathize with such a base persona by himself, so we need Blood and the way he so pointedly antagonizes Vic in order to balance things out. The movie works extremely well when they’re together, with Blood as the wise yet misanthropic teacher and Vic as his ambivalent young student. Their constant verbal sparring, while quite funny at times, also drives their characters forward and establishes the truly desolate nature of the world they live in.

It’s unsurprising, then, that the movie falls apart a bit in the final act, with the two main characters separated while Vic chases an attractive woman down a hatch and into her subterranean community. Vic’s hormones blind him to the obviousness of the trap the people there have set for him – when they say they need someone to impregnate their women (their men have become sterile), Vic volunteers under the false assumption that he will get to have sex with all of them. Without Blood to play off of his impulsiveness, though, the plot languishes in scenes where Vic is held the community’s unwilling captive. It doesn’t help that director L.Q. Jones goes too far with the underground culture’s bizarre nature, unnecessarily applying all of its inhabitants with clown make-up. The people are deprave enough without this touch, and I honestly think they would have been scarier had they been more normal-looking.

Even if some parts of it are a bit off-putting, though, it really is interesting the way the movie hints at a larger universe in which these characters play only a small part. One early scene has Vic and Blood attempting to hide from the “screamers,” whose presence is indicated by an eerie green glow and a series of high-pitched, ghastly shrieks. We never actually see the screamers, but they work well as a sort of unseen horror – perhaps even better than if Jones had actually found it appropriate (or in his budget) to show them to us.

But what really makes A Boy and His Dog worth seeing, despite the weakness of part of the story, is its brilliant ending. Without giving anything away, this is the sort of ending you secretly hope for and yet don’t think is actually possible – and when it does play out that way, the payoff is perfectly fantastic. This is easily one of the best endings I have ever seen in any movie, and it bears watching if only for that reason.


Anonymous said...

I agree that the ending is absolutely amazing. I can't think of another movie that gave me the ending that I was literally yelling for. I also agree that the clown makeup was pointless. A lot of what happened in the subterranean society didn't do much to further character development, but rather seemed just like a way to lengthen the plot and introduce a part where Blood and Vic weren't together.

Andy said...

At last . . . the review I have been waiting for since being exposed to this dysfunctionally dystopic film by you and "Anonymous." The ending, though disturbing, did generally make up for the absurdity of "Topeka," the subterranean Middle American 1950s-style society. The opening portrayal of the anarchic post-apocalyptic surface world (note: not "anarchist world," which would look different, at least in my libertarian mind) is actually quite engaging, especially with the Blood's commentary.