Sunday, September 22, 2013
A Boy and His Dog: an SF film
I must admit that when I first saw the title many years ago, my immediate reaction was another "Lassie Come Home" film, so I ignored it. Years later I came across comments that suggested it was a post-apocalyptic film and that Harlan Ellison had something to do with it. Aha, I thought--Harlan Ellison! Dog comes home and is eagerly welcomed. That night the dog gets up and rips out the throats of all those in the house or perhaps those welcoming the dog hadn't had any food for days, so Lassie ends up in the pot that night. That's HE stuff.
So I watched the film, and I was intrigued by it, but still troubled by something. I would watch it several times over the past decades and never quite resolved my problems with it. Finally, last week I watched it again, and I think I found out what's troubling me.
The film is really a two-part fantasy, one part above ground and the other down below. The inhabitants of the two planes of existence are very different, although they do share one common characteristic: both are trapped in a future-less existence.
Above ground, the inhabitants live solely in the present: they have no past and no future. They make no plans for the future. No one seems concerned that the canned goods they scavenge may either run out or turn bad over time. They want food and they search for it until they find some, eat, and rest. The same holds true for sex. They want sex, they search for it until they find a woman, rape her, and also frequently kill her. Today is all there is, and survival and immediate gratification are primary. The only common meeting ground for the inhabitants appears to be at the patched up film tent where apparently the only films that survived (or at least played) are porno films.
The only voice of sanity is that of Blood, the telepathic dog who hangs with Vic, a young rover or loner (played by a young Don Johnson, in his pre-Miami Vice days). Blood's sardonic observations provide a common sense point-of-view on the environment and the people about them. In complete contrast to everyone else, including his partner Vic, Blood alone has a sense of the past, present, and future.
His comments about the behavior of Vic and the others in the present are brief, ironic, and accurate. In addition, he attempts to teach Vic some history, which suggests that Blood is aware that unless one understands the past, one cannot comprehend the present, and if one doesn't know where one is, one cannot see where one is going. Blood alone is one who thinks about a better future or at least a different future. Now the promised land he frequently tries to persuade Vic to search for may be mythical, but it does show that Blood understands that this may not be all there is and there may be a better future than the one awaiting those who remain in this desolation.
Vic eventually is seduced into going down below and leaving Blood behind. Down below is far more bizarre than the post-apocalyptic world above. It's inhabitants occupy a different fantasy world: the past of the American Golden Age. It's the small town, the rural heartland of America, that possibly never existed, the time appears to be the period between WWI and WWII. The inhabitants wear bibbed overalls and pinafores, with clownish makeup and pigtails. A high school marching band wanders here and there (reminds me a bit of the band in The Prisoner). Everyday is a picnic: every day is the Fourth of July. The community is run by the Committee whose every dictate is silently obeyed by the rest. Dissenters are sent to "the farm," an interesting WWII holdover euphemism which stands for death.
We now discover just why Vic has been lured down there. The Committee has decided that "new blood" is needed, some healthy mongrel genes are necessary for the maintenance of healthy diversity. He is an imported stud. Unfortunately for Vic, the world down below has techniques for artificial insemination for humans also, so Vic's initial dream of endless couplings comes to naught.
I consider this to be the weakest part of the film, for Blood is not there with his brief and sarcastic observations. Jason Robards, as head of the committee, is the only one down there who is aware of what the real situation is, but he lacks Blood's ability to see beyond the present. All of Robard's actions are designed to maintain the status quo. The people down below are trapped in the past, they deny the present, and their future is only an escape to a mythical past.
Vic, and the viewers, need Blood to point out the weaknesses of the down below world. Perhaps it is impossible for common sense to exist below. The strange encounter with the dog below makes me wonder about that. Vic sees a dog similar to Blood, although considerably cleaner. Vic speaks to the dog but gets no answer. Robards gets the dog and questions it. Silence. This is not a telepathic dog. Robards orders the dog to be sent to "the farm," just in case. This might be suggestive of what might happen to anyone who might look too closely at their culture.
The film only regains its focal point when Vic escapes the asylum (mental asylum, not safe place asylum) down below and finds Blood. Blood is the real star of the show. He provides a basic level of sanity that pokes through the fantasy above ground, but not for the world below. And, without Blood, I find the world down below somewhat disappointing and less interesting than it should have been.
As for the ending--that's pure Ellison. All I can say is encapsulated in two cliches, slightly modified:
Love is a sometime thing, but a dog is man's best friend.
Greater love hath no man than to give up his wife for his dog.
I recently found a copy of Ellison's short story that was the basis for the film. It was a bit expensive, but I was curious. When I received it a few days ago, I discovered that Ellison had written three short stories about Vic and Blood, "Eggsucker," "A Boy and His Dog" (the basis for the film), and "Run, Spot, Run." The third one is actually an excerpt from Ellison's projected novel Blood's a Rover (working title). I can't find any information that the novel was published. However, there are several graphic novels featuring Vic and Blood, so those may have replaced the projected novel.
Now for the short stories.