“A Boy and His Dog” is probably one of the most sexist post apocalyptic film ever made, but also one of the most influential. That said, if you’re female, there is a good chance you’ll either not enjoy this movie, or be downright offended by it. In defense of the film, however, it never goes so far as to directly insult women, but contains very few of them, and none are very positive portrayals. In the wastelands, there are only two – one has been raped and killed, and the other is a prostitute. However disappointing and distasteful, this isn’t a terribly unlikely scenario in a future where women are rare and people live and die by violence. It wouldn’t be the first time in history they’d been treated, however unjustly, as a commodity.
In the underground vault community, most of the women are one-dimensional mime-faced backdrops, but then so are the men! The two women in prominent standing underground are Quilla June (Susan Benton), who though manipulative, is also extremely capable. She mainly gets docked for her disregard of Blood near the ending, but in her defense she has no emotional attachment to him. I would argue that our supposed hero is the biggest asshole in the film, and that his treatment of women says far more about this character than it does the fairer sex. The female committee member is cold and maniacal, but no more so than Jason Robards’ character. So, if you plan to watch this, enter into it with this in mind, and try not to take anything personally, because you’ll only be depriving yourself of a potentially pleasant post apoc experience.
This movie is so purely representative of the genre that if I could reduce it to a powder, I’d snort it through a rolled up page from a Max Brooks book and evaporate into a tiny mushroom cloud – the six foot empty space between my face and the TV just dilutes the experience. Based on a 1969 short story by Harlan Ellison, it has influenced everything from the “Mad Max” series to “Fallout 3”. In essence, ABAHD (so good it needs a hip acronym) is the ultimate buddy film spanning everything from a desolate surface wasteland to a surreal underground vault community with despotic social engineers and android enforcers. There are apparently short stories and graphic novels that both predate and continue this story, and I plan to include reviews of those once I can research and acquire them. The film, however, stands alone with no deficiencies whatsoever.
It begins with a clear, concise statement: a stock-footage series of nuclear explosions in various vivid color-filters. There is no music, nor are there any titles. The only sounds are those of the explosions. Eventually it fades to black and two phrases scroll vertically across a blank, silent screen: “World War IV lasted five days. Politicians had finally solved the problem of urban blight.” How much clearer can you get?
The film never gives the exact year of WW3, but the novella lists it as 2007 (another point for us, society). In this wasteland setting of 2024, it appears that the buildings and houses of the old world have been buried beneath twenty feet of dirt. While this we probably more a budget decision than a creative one, can we assume this is ash from the nuclear explosions and resulting wide-scale fires? The solo rovers and gangs on the surface dig down into these underground structures and scavenge them for supplies, sometimes also using them for shelter. While radiation doesn’t seem to be a concern in the film, radioactive zombie-type mutants called “screamers” are discussed and implied, but never actually seen on screen.
In the first actual scene we hear two men speaking, and are introduced to a young Vic (Don Johnson) dressed in tattered clothing and carrying both a modified Springfield M1903 bolt action .30-06, and a Webley-Green breaktop 45 caliber revolver.
A wise man once told me, “If something walks on this continent, and you’d rather it not, .30-06 is a good place to start”. It is revealed that Vic is sneaking up on a group of men who are assaulting a woman, as is evident by audible screaming. The presence and number of men are detailed to Vic by the other man’s voice who remains off-screen, giving orders. Vic takes out the lookout, but decides to hide and avoid the large number of armed men now leaving the underground structure – among them is a child who asks the others, “Did you see her jerk when I cut her?” This comment probably doesn’t bode well for the unseen female.
Vic’s guiding voice then manifests onscreen, and in a WTF moment akin to the reveal of Ishmael, it’s a dog. Not only that, but a hyper-intelligent, telepathic, wise-cracking dog named “Blood” (voiced by Tim McIntire). When Vic makes his way underground, he finds that the woman has been raped and mutilated. Understandably upset, he points out that she could’ve been used at least two or three more times if they hadn’t cut her (inconsiderate bastards). Swim aside Mariner, there’s a new utterly irredeemable anti-hero in town! Whereas the mariner merely hated everyone (especially kids), Vic is more Ashley-Williamsesque in his overtly negative treatment of women.
In this future, only two commodities matter: food and women, and Vic and Blood spend each and every day seeking both. Blood’s ultimate dream is to find a paradise called “Over The Hill” where food still grows, but Vic thinks it’s a myth.
Blood, as I mentioned, is extremely intelligent and educated, having taught Vic to read (a rare skill in the wasteland that he uses to his advantage) and often giving him history lessons during their travels. While never mentioned in the film, it is apparently made clear in the novella that Blood’s intellect and telepathy are the product of pre-apocalyptic genetic engineering. The film does mention, however, that only Vic is able to communicate with Blood – a phenomenon that Vic explains by saying that they “think alike”. Their partnership is symbiotic, with Vic offering food and protection and Blood giving Vic the advantage in battle and scavenging by way of his heightened senses of smell and hearing. Vic’s priority for Blood, however, seems to be sniffing out women for Vic to rape (charisma abounds!). While their relationship seems tense at times, it’s obvious in many scenes that Vic and Blood love one another. They often trade derogatory terms of endearment, with Blood referring to Vic by his real name, Albert (which he hates), and Vic calling Blood “fuzzy butt” and “dog meat” (the name of the dog in “Fallout 3” which can both understand English and can retrieve specific items that the player requests).
In the Novella, Vic is 18 years old, which would mean he was a year old when the apocalypse occurred. It is also said that Vic and Blood have been together since then, when Blood was just a puppy, and that Vic’s parents were killed when the bombs fell. If this is the case, how did a puppy and a one-year-old child survive on their own? Not only that, but how did Blood learn all the information he now knows if no one was around to teach him? I won’t harp on this too much, because it might be explained in the novella – I’ll have to wait and see.
The film takes place in two very distinct settings, as mentioned above, with almost no overlap. The portion of the film on the surface is said to be the ruins of Phoenix, Arizona, and plays out very much like the “Mad Max” movies it would influence, only with conspicuously fewer vehicles and no talk of precious guzzoline. The only vehicle here is the slaver’s man-drawn chariot (complete with a caged one-legged minstrel and a pre-pubescent boy-slave in all white – with the near extinction of women, this issue a given).
The only surface settlement we see is a very small barter outpost where rovers can trade canned food (the currency of choice) for popcorn, pornography, and prostitution (the three P’s of a balanced wasteland lifestyle?). What confuses me here, though, is that Vic gladly trades two cans of food so he and Blood can sit and watch the vintage porn being projected on the wall of a makeshift theater (which stars the screenwriter, L.Q. Jones), and complain about how badly he needs to get laid. Nearby, however, there is clearly a female prostitute who accepts a single can of food for her services. Vic has a sack on his back that contains NUMEROUS cans of food… why is he wasting sardines and beets on porn when he could be satisfying himself with a willing participant for the same price!? Sure, he’d be at the end of a long line full of the wasteland’s lowest common denominator, but it has to be better than the corpse he was almost willing to defile earlier!
Apparently, Blood doesn’t notice the working girl because he doesn’t mention her presence, but does notice a Mulan in the theater audience. They follow her back to an abandoned gymnasium where Vic ambushes her and intends to rape her at gunpoint. Quilla June seems to take it pretty well, considering, which makes Blood suspicious (you could say he smells something fishy… ). Sure enough, a large group of raiders attacks the gymnasium, but are dispatched by Vic, Blood, and even Quilla who picks up a discarded M-16 and takes out a few goons on her own, showing that she’s not as helpless as she’s been letting on, and setting the stage for Costner’s Abby character. Vic begins wailing like a screamer to scare away the raiders still outside the gym -screamers are said to be highly radioactive zombie type creatures who wail and can fatally irradiate you by merely touching you, but are never actually seen in the film. It actually works, and Quilla immediately jumps Vic and makes love to him until he passes out (yet another note for Abby’s playbook). In the morning, though, Quilla knocks Vic out and escapes, leaving behind an access card to her underground vault-community.
This is another point in the story where some questions arise. Vic decides to track Quilla all the way to her home in Topeka, Kansas, despite that fact that Blood sustained a broken leg in the previous night’s melee, and more importantly, TOPEKA IS A THOUSAND MILES AWAY! The Solarbabies weren’t willing to walk a hundred miles for life-giving water, but Vic is willing to walk A THOUSAND MILES for a piece of tail!? Again, Vic, I would just like to go on record as having pointed out that there’s a perfectly good prostitute right around the corner who is both consensual and won’t KNOCK YOU OUT in the morning!
Cut to the next scene, and the duo somehow arrive at the entrance to the vault. Uhm… I can’t help but feel like we missed a lot of good story in the thousand miles between the previous scene and this one.
Either way, here we are. Vic decides to go down into the vault, despite the obvious dangers, but Blood decides to wait on the surface for only a few days before leaving and striking out on his own. So, now Vic is trading is best friend, and the reason he is still alive, for another shot at Quilla June. There has never been a better involuntary commercial, than this film, for the Fleshlight.
At this point, the film undergoes a jarring transition into the surreal, 50s-esque vault community of Topeka, Kansas.
Despite perpetual night, the community has immaculate sprawling lawns and forests, nuclear families (no pun intended), bright colors and continuous sounds-of-nature and music piped over a PA system. Every citizen of Topeka is subject to strict social order programs that guide their relationships, breeding, and even attitudes. To emphasize this, their faces are painted in clownish paint with fake smiles. Those who commit any infraction, including having the “wrong attitude” are judged by the 3-person governing body called “the committee”, and often sentenced to death unenthusiastically. Their orders are carried out by a series of hulking hillbilly androids all named Michael (Hal Baylor). The head of the committee is played by Jason Robards who reinforces the idea that a post apocalyptic film’s most interesting character must be the villain. Robards is a blue-blooded, droning social engineer who has clearly fallen into a sedentary flavor of despotism, and has selected Vic as a breeding drone to inject new life into the tired Topeka gene pool. Robards not only EXCELS in this role, but injects this portion of the film with a certain amount of class and believability where the otherwise.
While initially ecstatic about the prospect, Vic soon realizes that this entails his being chained down and hooked to a frightening machine that vacuums out his… genetic material.
There is a scene here that I HAVE TO point out: while the camera is traveling down the hallway showing numerous couples lined up to get married and accept Vic’s seed, there is a well dressed young man at the end of the line on the right who appears to be laughing and talking to his peers. As the camera passes him, he looks STRAIGHT into the camera (and into your SOUL), and makes the most unexpected and hilarious Oh-face I have ever seen in my life. I had to stop and rewind it about five times and scratch me head thinking, “What the hell is up with THIS guy!?” Maybe he just realized what line he was standing in? “Wait… I’m waiting in line to get married to a pregnant chick I don’t even get to knock up myself?! Whoa! Look at the time… I think ‘The Noah’ is on…”
Quilla and some other young, dejected rebels break in and free Vic, and Vic gives a short but sweet lesson in escape that brings a tear to my eye. The second he’s unchained, he does three things: he takes the crowbar from Quilla (Freeman approves), grabs a pillowcase and scavenges some useful items from the room (appears to be disinfectant or medicine, possibly for Blood), and then asks Quilla to take him directly to his guns. Bravo, Vic. Bravo. Rule #1 in any escape situation: PROCURE WEAPONS.
Vic and Quilla escape and return to the surface to find Blood knocking on death’s door. Because of his busted leg, he wasn’t able to find any food without Vic and is now starving. Way to go, Vic… you asshole. Not only did you disregard the fact that you were leaving an essentially three-legged dog upstairs to fend for himself, but you didn’t even leave him any food! But how long was Vic down there, anyway? Also, Vic didn’t manage to bring up any food during the escape, and Quilla tells him that there’s nothing more than they can do, and they should just leave Blood to die and save themselves.
At this moment, Vic is seen pondering something deeply. He reduces his situation to a mathematical equation and comes to the only logical conclusion: he kills Quilla, and cooks her remains for Blood to eat. Oh yes. I’m absolutely serious. For some strange reason, it feels like the right thing to do. You know what Blood is thinking though: “You stupid mother f*cker, you dragged me a THOUSAND miles across the wasteland with a BROKEN LEG, and then you left me to STARVE to DEATH… all so you could turn around and kill the entire reason behind this misadventure. That said, thanks bro.” A lot of people get upset at this scene, what with Vic choosing to murder Quilla to save Blood. While it does fly in the face of his previous decision to abandon Blood for her, it’s understandable in some sense because he realizes that Quilla has no feelings for him, and is only using him to survive. Blood, on the other hand, both loves him and carries his weight. And why the hell are you still surprised at Vic’s disregard for women? Hasn’t he made it abundantly clear at this point? This decision should honestly come as no surprise.
They also do all of this RIGHT OUTSIDE THE DOOR of the vault – apparently confident that their pursuers won’t expend the effort to open the front door and look around before giving up the chase and calling it a day. “Damn! He made it out the front door…oh well, back to the picnic.” I guess they were right. The film ends with Vic and Blood wandering back into the wasteland, right back where they began, but secure in their friendship and loyalty to one another. As I said, the ULTIMATE buddy film. If blatant sexism bothers you, however playful and comedic, you might want to give this one a pass… but the rest of you should enjoy one of the most unique and memorable post apoc movies out there.