I’m a dog movie apologist. Sure, they’re mostly vapid fluff but then again so are dogs. The thing about dog movies is that they all follow the same story: person obtains dog, dog throws person’s life into playful chaos, dog is punished, person encounters real problem, dog helps person overcome problem, and person learns to love dog for flaws because dog loves person. Sometimes the dog dies at the end too but the dead-dog-movie is it’s own subgenre if you ask me. My favorite part of any dog movie is when the dog helps their owner overcome a real problem because this is where all the action usually is. This is where you’ll see a dog stop a bank robber or help mend a troubled marriage. This is also where the person then perceives the dog’s actions as an inherent love of the person rather than regular doggy nature. This is where the myth of “man’s best friend” comes to life.
Most dog movies can be seen as examples of our own narcissistic and insecure tendencies; they’re stories about animals that risk their lives because they wuv us very much (even if we’re still mad at them for ruining that important business lunch with David Duchovny). Yet despite the fact that we share such an odd relationship with dogs there is only one film I’ve ever seen that dares to explore the darker side of it.
Jérôme Boivin’s Baxter was released in 1989. Billed as a horror film about a “murderous bull terrier” I was expecting something along the lines of a haute Cujo but ended up being enthralled in a serious drama about isolation, obsession, and unnatural thoughts. Told through an insidious voice over from the Baxter’s point of view, the film follows him from owner to owner as we get a glimpse into the lives of several families, all who play a part in shaping Baxter’s perception of the world.
Like most other dog films Baxter centers itself around the relationship between a boy and his dog. Although he is technically the dog’s third owner the boy, Jean, is the one who forms the greatest bond with Baxter. Jean teaches Baxter to sit, heel, and come but he also tries teaching Baxter to kill. As Jean’s father puts it, his son is just “going through a phase.” Or at least that’s what he decides to think when he uncovers Jean’s binder full of articles on Hitler and blueprints to Jean’s reconstruction of Hitler’s underground bunker. “All boys like to play war.”
In Jean’s make believe world, where he even has a girlfriend he call Eva Braun, Baxter is the stand in for Blondi, Hitler’s dog. The story of Blondi is sad and awful. Supposedly, Hitler loved her very much but when he was unsure of whether or not the suicide pills he was planning to take would work, he tested them on Blondi. Only after Blondi died did he take them too. Then they were cremated together.
Baxter is a frightening and perverse reexamination of our relationship with dogs that uses the inhumanity of WWII to reflect the inhumanity with which we treat one another. Although it is deeply disturbing it’s use of black humor throughout the film helps ease the viewer through. Both enthralling and atrocious Baxter is the ultimate anti-dog movie.
What do you think? Have you ever seen Baxter? What is your favorite dog movie? Please leave some comments below so that we can continue our conversation on dog movies, anti-dog movies, and what they say about us.
-Jet Fuel Blogger, Lucas Sifuentes