Todd Solondz’s new film is titled Weiner-Dog and is classified as a comedy. The director has a unique brand of filmmaking—he’s known for creating off-beat, dark character studies that stretch the boundaries of satire and humor. Many critics champion his work (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Storytelling) while others find them cruel and over-the-top downbeat. It’s not for nothing that he’s been called the “King of Feel-Bad Cinema.” Still, his films are serious and thought-provoking, grappling with life’s most difficult issues—alienation, human frailty, mortality. I was interested to see what he would do with a film centered around a dog.
If you intend to see this film, warning … read no further. The dog does not come to a happy end. And it is not off-camera. The gruesome hit-and-run scene seems to be inspired by Sam Peckinpah, the ’70s filmmaker noted for his ballet-like depictions of death scenes (The Wild Bunch). This cringe-worthy moment is one of many that animal lovers will suffer through. There are several other scenes of antiquated dog “training” and “care” that made viewers wince. Real as they may be, it’s hard to watch. That’s not to say that all film featuring animals must be obligated to end happily. We know that is not how life is. In an interview, Solondz talked with Gawker about the film’s subject matter:
“It’s very complicated in some sense that if you have a pet, a dog, it can be a vessel that one fills with one’s illusions or yearnings or hopes and so forth. That oftentimes has very little to do with the actual dog itself. It’s hard to see a dog in its own dogness. We’re so anthropocentric, it’s hard not to anthropomorphize. I think that when people see an animal harmed, it’s something that’s emblematic of the purity of innocence. Nothing can rival a little dachshund in its cuteness, and in fact, as you are probably aware, people have a harder time with that than harm befalling humans.”
Still, with all of the publicity surrounding the film (reviews in the New Yorker, on NPR) and misleading blurbs portraying the film as a comedy—we feel our readers should be forewarned. This is not a film for the faint of heart and certainly not suitable viewing for children. But don’t take our word for it, check out this review and others, and decide for yourself.