A Boy and His Dog (1975) Written and Directed by L.Q. Jones, based on a novella by Harlan Ellison

 

I came to this film with no expectations because, well, I didn’t really know what it was about. Initially, I saw a short and rather odd clip when I had fallen down the endless rabbit hole we folks call YouTube and it was odd enough to make me want to investigate from whence it came…

There are plenty of post-apocalyptic sci-fi films out there and in some ways this is no different. There’s the dystopian depiction of the future as hot, dusty and unpleasant; of civilisation circling the toilet bowl; of lawless loners; gangs and a societal divide. Seeing this in the same week I was reading Stephen King’s 11.22.63, there’s also the not unfamiliar ‘what would have happened if Kennedy hadn’t died’ trope. There’s also the utopian dream in the face of adversity, hopes of what lies “over the hill.”

The main partnership in the film is between, as you may have guessed from the title, a boy (well… a man…) and his dog. Again, this isn’t that out of the ordinary, it’s a device used so that the loner character doesn’t have to spend the whole of the film talking to themselves, or shop mannequins. For example, it’s used in I am Legend (2007, based on the Richard Matheson novel of 1954.) In this instance though, the dog talks back, kind of like Adventure Time (2010-present) if Finn was trying to find and ravage Princess Bubblegum and Jake was helping him track her in return for food.

Vic (Don Johnson) is a human with shady morals, who can communicate telepathically with Blood (voice provided by Tim McIntire), a smart but creepy shaggy dog. The exposition is delivered as Blood gets Vic to repeat back to him the facts of the recent political upheavals and wars, while berating Vic for his general idiocy. It is seeing a cuddly-looking dog and simultaneously hearing McIntire gruffly saying things like, “I hope the next time you play with yourself, you go blind” which is so disconcerting.

This is a society where the women are few and far between and Vic is horny. After finding, stalking and capturing Quilla (Susanne Benton) who then escapes, Vic follows her home, underground to a place described as ‘Downunder.’ Then things start to go in an even stranger direction. The Downunder dwellers are like sinister 1950s townsfolk, parading and picnicking in a sunless world. They also hold committee meetings. The Committee, however, is constantly shipping troublesome citizens off to the Farm, in a parody of small-minded, small-town America.

It is clear from the start that something is a little off in this underground society. The film contains a lot of creepy details which are not contained in Ellison’s 1969 novella. For instance, the residents of Downunder all wear ‘whiteface’, with pink blush on their cheeks and a 1984 style series of loudspeakers are constantly blaring out unavoidable public service announcements and recipes for domestic harmony.

Vic, incidentally, has been lured into a trap. He is required for his precious free-range sperm. In the novella, this means the promise of sleeping with a lot of women. The film includes a short but arresting scene in which Vic is tied up and mechanically… ahem… milked for his produce… while being simultaneously married off to a succession of women in big puffy dresses. Incidentally, it was this scene which bought me to the film in the first place. I wondered what was going on…

Women don’t come off that well in this film. Quilla is initially depicted as beautiful and naïve but is soon revealed to be a bit of a deceitful temptress (although good for her, in the circumstances.) She also comes across as the ultimate ‘high maintenance’ woman when she continually purrs to Vic about their love for each other and her plans for their lives together. How much of this is Quilla simply being manipulative is up for interpretation. She also features heavily in the film’s rather remorseless final little twist.

The enduring relationship in the film is that between Vic and Blood. Vic explains that for the telepathy between Blood and himself to work, the two of them must “have a feeling for each other.” I would argue that they don’t seem to care for each other particularly, in fact neither character is really very likeable. Harlan Ellison himself, however, will never win any charm-school awards, so this is perhaps unsurprising.

This film did not do well at the box office. This does not surprise me. I thoroughly enjoyed A Boy and His Dog it for its quirkiness, for the unsettling contrast between the over and underground worlds and its bald refusal to try and force me to like anyone. At ninety-one minutes long there’s no fat to trim away from this film and it is well worth a watch for its novelty value, seeing a common sort of story told with uncommon components. Ultimately, the film is unpleasant and darkly comedic in equal turns and that’s just fine with me.

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